I just posted this comment at the end of a very long thread and then thought it might never been seen, so I hope people don't mind that I am re-posting this as a new thread. Some points about a couple of town issues:

1. Beach House: I think it is important to factor into one's thinking about the Town Beach that this is one of the few common areas in our town. In fact, where almost all MA towns have Town Commons in the form of a sizable green space, we don't. We have a town beach. And we have town playing fields. I have always thought that this was pretty special. These are used by many residents for the purpose of engaging together in meaningful activities (yes, leisure and sports are meaningful activities!). The beach in particular not only hosts beach-goers during the summer season, but is used by the crew team in the fall and spring, and by many families in the off season where one often finds kids on the swings or someone launching a small craft from the boat launch, or heading out for ice fishing in mid winter, or people just strolling along the beach in all seasons. It is a very special environemnt and every time I bring someone there from another town, they are in awe of our privilege of having such a space for town residents. One can argue whether the proposed beach house upgrades are cost-effective. But I find the sense that some people seem to have that upgrading beach houses is somehow ludicrous, to be off base. A busy common area like this needs good and safe structures that support the range of activities. And I keep hearing people throwing around the "fact" that only 15% of the town uses the beach. That might be true (I have no idea), but I think that this is probably true of an town's commons areas. This doesn't diminish the importance of such Commons and our New England determination to maintain such Commons because they matter to the spirit and values of the town and its residents. It also pains me to also hear the insinuations I have heard that mostly south Wayland residents use the beach and that perhaps it is not somehow of value to the town as a whole. So, whether or not one supported the measure to upgrade the facilities there, I would sure like to hear more of the discussion centered around teh context of the importance of this space to our town.

2. Voting. It is my understanding that when we meet at town meeting, we are meeting not simply as voters but as legislators. We are there to do what legislatures do in appropriating and approving the expenditure of funds and enacting or revising laws. Legislating is by definition meant to be deliberative. And if we are going to be a deliberative body then people need to come ready to spend the time it takes to deliberate, not simply to vote and run. Additionally, I know of no democratic legislature where the voting in done in private. The point of a democratic legislature is to be a public body, accountable to voters. For these reasons, I have to question much of the thrust of the many initiatives being proposed to privatize the voting and to otherwise turn the town meeting into simply another polling place.

I do think that our current model for town meeting is cumbersome, because it is based on direct democracy. That is by definition a difficult and cumbersome model. And yes, it can be intimidating on some level to come and stand in front of neighbors and find you have differences on important issues. But that's the nature of a democratic society. It's why we all say things like "You have to stand up for what you believe!" Indeed we do and, as I think so much of the nastiness on internet comments sections proves, when you can sit alone and hide behind a screen with a mouse or other "voting/communicating" device and simply let 'er rip, deliberation often stops and vituperation starts. When we talk about cultivating civility, we are talking about being civil, which meas we are talking about talk to one another. Yes, people get heated and act-out. Some of this is natural, especially among people not "practiced" at deliberation and working in concert with people with diverse interests. But that's why this process is done among a group of people so that common, community standards of behavior are raised and evolve in response, people learn together about what it means to deliberate respectfully and build community, and we continue to build the possibilities for common action for the common good of the town and its residents. There is much interesting data I have seen here and there about how much more civil people who share a community are likely to be or learn to become when they are face to face in venues like this structured for deliberation, rather than in anonymous settings. The responsibility here needs to be about more than personal convenience. Town meeting and living in a community where we are our legislature, carries the responsibility for doing the hard work of not only defining good policies but also of taking some responsibility for helping one another to be better deliberators and members of our community. That's what Democracy is all about, as far as I can tell.

So, the point to me is that we need to be working hard to enhance basic democratic and civic behaviors, not trying to work around them. Despite so much tension over the last few years over town policies and issues, I think that the gains we have made in engagement of people in issues of common concern have been remarkable. I really fear that the proposals to privatize and "remotize" participation are ideas that will throw us into reverse and send people back into seclusion and into largely "reactive" mode, rather than further the civic engagement that we have fostered. I think we would do much better to be talking about how to channel so much passion into increased meaningful engagement, not less.

This is why many towns have gone to representative town meeting, where precincts every year or two spend time or a more neighborhood-level basis electing representatives, say 25 each, to be the delegates to the town meeting. Those people are then responsible for getting to all of the meetings that are relevant to a potential warrant (that many people say they don't have time to do themselves), for understanding their constituents and those local residents' views, and then going to town meeting and deliberating based on that. Is this a perfect system? No. It still has the usual issues about who is represented and how representatives vote. But it does make the process more manageable in many respects. One of the things about direct democracy is that it assumes a relatively homogeneous and small population. That was the nature of our small New England villages and towns when these models were developed. At some point, however, some 200 years later, towns get too big or too diverse to accommodate direct democracy and this necessitates adaptation to new models. Representative democracy is one possible model for a town our size.

Perhaps all of this has already been discussed to death, and someone can enlighten me where my thinking is wrong (I have no doubt that several of you will endeavor to do that!). But I believe that it is fundamentally misguided to try to turn town meeting into a large voting booth. We should be able to think more creatively than that about how to enhance our town governance.

Thanks,

Jon.