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Thread: Town Meeting Blues

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    There was one counted vote, and that count was 32-175. Counting that many votes simply does not take that much time. All the other votes were uncounted. (Details of the Town Meeting are online here.)

    Attendance for the night was 343, considerably higher than we had at the end of Night 4 (better for democracy). Further, articles considered after 11pm are simply not going to get the attention they deserve. If people just want to get it over with and go home, we're not doing justice to the items under consideration.




    Most babysitters are high school students with curfews. It is unreasonable to expect them to babysit to unconstrained hours on school nights. While payment may be by the hour, availability is another factor. It would be completely unreasonable to expect sitters to stay until midnight or later.

    It is also unreasonable to expect people who have to commute to work (often quite early) the next day to stay until limited hours either. Having Town decisions made at those hours essentially asks them to be made only by that subset of the community that is available then, an even more unrepresentative subset than those who attend Town Meeting at all.
    I wholeheartedly agree that Town Meetings can and should be more efficient. That doesn't make "if we continue to have 5 or 6-night town meetings" an accurate premise.

  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I disagree. The mood I sensed at the end of night 2 was of the sort where people could easily be forgiven for throwing up their hands and bailing out for the remainder of the sessions. The fact that they might "only" have to endure two more nights of excruciating tedium instead of three or four is small consolation.
    And yet attendance for the third session of this year's Annual Town Meeting peaked at 418, a 12% decrease from this year's second session, and handily exceeding the attendance of any session of last year's Annual Town Meeting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Winston Churchill
    Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
    Yes, we should make Town Meeting more efficient, but that's no excuse for incorrectly characterizing it as typically requiring 5 or 6 sessions.

  3. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Yes, we should make Town Meeting more efficient, but that's no excuse for incorrectly characterizing it as typically requiring 5 or 6 sessions.
    So we agree it's just too long and we need to work to make it work better for our residents.

    We also agree that it's not typically 5-6 sessions.

    Where we disagree: I think the phrase "no excuse for incorrectly characterizing it" goes maybe a bit far.

    He was just writing his thoughts, and I'm glad he shared them. If he exaggerated a bit, I think I'm willing to grant him license given the validity of his main points. If he edited that one sentence to say typically 4 nights (or typically 5-6 nights per year when you include Special Town Meeting), you'd be on board, and we could come back to his main points?

    [caveat: I didn't look up the actual length of past Special Town Meetings, so I could have over- or understated the typical length of the sum our annual ATM and STM; numbers provided are a rough estimate]

  4. #19
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    No Special Town Meeting in the last four has required more than 1 session. Three of the four lasted less than 2 hours, but we were at it for 3.5 hours in 2010.

    The last four Annual Town Meetings have required an average of 4 sessions, with 2012's 5-session anomaly balanced by a 3 session Annual Town Meeting meeting in 2011. Total elapsed time averages 12.5 hours, ranging from 10 hours in 2013 to 15.5 hours in 2012.

    Since the fall of 2010, we've averaged 14.5 hours per fiscal year in Town Meetings.

  5. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    No Special Town Meeting in the last four has required more than 1 session. Three of the four lasted less than 2 hours, but we were at it for 3.5 hours in 2010.

    The last four Annual Town Meetings have required an average of 4 sessions, with 2012's 5-session anomaly balanced by a 3 session Annual Town Meeting meeting in 2011. Total elapsed time averages 12.5 hours, ranging from 10 hours in 2013 to 15.5 hours in 2012.

    Since the fall of 2010, we've averaged 14.5 hours per fiscal year in Town Meetings.
    Dave, thanks for this. Amazing how 14.5 hours can seem like 50!

  6. #21
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    Ideas discussed in last night's "Town Meeting Forum" hosted by Moderator Dennis Berry included:

    1. Develop completeness criteria for Board-sponsored Articles, and ask the Selectmen to defer any Board-sponsored Article that does not satisfy these criteria
    2. Hold a "Petitioner's Workshop" with Town Counsel and members of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee present
    3. Suggest to the Board of Selectmen that they estimate the time that will be required to address each Article at Town Meeting, and use these estimates when organizing the Warrant and deciding which Board-sponsored Articles to include or defer
    4. Use the Warrant Hearing to expose weaknesses in preparation or organization that can be corrected before Town Meeting

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Ideas discussed in last night's "Town Meeting Forum" hosted by Moderator Dennis Berry included: ...
    These ideas are all well and good, but I don't really see any of them dramatically speeding up or otherwise improving Town Meeting.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    1. Develop completeness criteria for Board-sponsored Articles, and ask the Selectmen to defer any Board-sponsored Article that does not satisfy these criteria
    Would this take place before the December submission deadline? Would it allow a board enough time to make corrections in time for that submission deadline?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    2. Hold a "Petitioner's Workshop" with Town Counsel and members of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee present
    Would Petitioner attendance at this workshop be mandatory? Would Petitioners be required to do anything as a result, such as meet criteria of the sort that would be required of Boards in 1, above?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    3. Suggest to the Board of Selectmen that they estimate the time that will be required to address each Article at Town Meeting, and use these estimates when organizing the Warrant and deciding which Board-sponsored Articles to include or defer
    Unless the BOS defers an Article, I don't see this saving any time. At best, it might shove "short" Articles to the end of the evening where they get less attention than they otherwise might.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    4. Use the Warrant Hearing to expose weaknesses in preparation or organization that can be corrected before Town Meeting
    Isn't this already the case?


    Without limiting speech on an Article, it's hard to see how it will be possible to speed up Town Meeting. And without speeding up Town Meeting, it's hard to see how the problem that Dan Hill raised gets addressed: people don't like and/or can't get to Town Meeting, especially when it lasts four excruciating nights.

    We can hardly tout attendance in the 400s as success--that's on the order of 5% of the Town's population.

    A few other things that might help:


    1. Quickly rule out of scope motions that are out of scope.

    2. Step through the operating budgets line-by-line in order, with the understanding that while circling back to a line is allowed, that it's poor etiquette.

    3. Implement voting from home.

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Would this take place before the December submission deadline? Would it allow a board enough time to make corrections in time for that submission deadline?
    Any Board-sponsored Article that did not satisfy the completion criteria before the submission deadline, would not be included in the Warrant.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Would Petitioner attendance at this workshop be mandatory? Would Petitioners be required to do anything as a result, such as meet criteria of the sort that would be required of Boards in 1, above?
    No, that would be a violation of Massachusetts Law. However, many petitioners have asked for this, and far more Town Meeting time is spent on Board-sponsored Articles than on articles submitted by Petitioners.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Unless the BOS defers an Article, I don't see this saving any time.
    The point of the proposal is to enable the BOS to defer Articles that are incomplete so that we don't waste time considering them on Town Meeting floor.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Isn't this already the case?
    No Warrant Hearing I've ever attended has come close to assessing the readiness of Board-sponsored Articles. I did miss the the most recent Warrant Hearing, which I'm told was "a little better"; if that's the case, this progress should be further encouraged.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Without limiting speech on an Article, it's hard to see how it will be possible to speed up Town Meeting.
    Collectively, speakers currently use less than half of their allocated time budget, so serious reductions in time allocations would be required to have any impact. I would, however, support reducing the amount of "presentation time" allocated to the Budget Article (currently 30 minutes).

    Had the Articles we passed over not been included in the Warrant, we'd have saved 36 minutes.

    Over the course of the entire meeting, 2.5 hours of the 12.5 hour total occurred with no one speaking. That could be reduced.

    Eliminating the need for the Moderator to (sometimes reconstruct and) read each motion before we vote would also save considerable time. This could be achieved with displays appropriately positioned throughout the venue and a means of updating these displays as motions are changed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Implement voting from home.
    When you can offer practical solutions to the problems of large-scale proxy voting and vulnerability to attack, let me know.

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Collectively, speakers currently use less than half of their allocated time budget, so serious reductions in time allocations would be required to have any impact. I would, however, support reducing the amount of "presentation time" allocated to the Budget Article (currently 30 minutes).
    How much of that 30 minutes was used?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Had the Articles we passed over not been included in the Warrant, we'd have saved 36 minutes.
    How many articles was that? Any idea how many were passed over for reasons that couldn't have been anticipated at the time of submission? I'm thinking of Articles that would have met all of the "completeness criteria."

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Over the course of the entire meeting, 2.5 hours of the 12.5 hour total occurred with no one speaking. That could be reduced.
    I assume this includes the 30 second voting windows. I don't know how many votes there were, but my guess would be on the order of 2-3 per article. So, that's 30 to 45 minutes there. Does this "dead time" include people walking to/from the microphones? What else does it include?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Eliminating the need for the Moderator to (sometimes reconstruct and) read each motion before we vote would also save considerable time. This could be achieved with displays appropriately positioned throughout the venue and a means of updating these displays as motions are changed.
    I like this idea, it was one that I first heard during my first ATM in 1994. At the time, the notion was simply to indicate the article number (which *may* have been tracked on the scoreboard) and whether it was a main motion, an amendment, or a procedural motion being voted. I can certainly imagine far more valuable information being presented given today's technology.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    When you can offer practical solutions to the problems of large-scale proxy voting and vulnerability to attack, let me know.
    I'm certainly not qualified to offer such solutions. But given the many secure financial, VPN, and similar transactions that take place via the web (Heartbleed notwithstanding), I would be surprised that appropriate technology doesn't exist already.

  10. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    How much of that 30 minutes was used?
    26 of the 30 minutes allowed for presenting the budget were used.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    How many articles was that?
    7 or 38 Articles were passed over or indefinitely tabled.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Any idea how many were passed over for reasons that couldn't have been anticipated at the time of submission? I'm thinking of Articles that would have met all of the "completeness criteria."
    My understanding is that the Articles submitted by the Planning Board that were passed over or tabled skipped the public hearing step.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I assume this includes the 30 second voting windows.
    No. That 2.5 hours represents time when
    • no one was presenting a motion or amendment
    • no one was speaking pro or con
    • no one was asking or answering a question
    • the Moderator wasn't providing an explanation
    • we weren't voting


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Does this "dead time" include people walking to/from the microphones? What else does it include?
    It includes the time between speakers, the time when someone is speaking "privately" with the Moderator, and any recesses that are called. Since the the 2011 Annual Town Meeting, we've averaged 85% utilization of elapsed time; the most recent Town Meeting was 4% worse than our average.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I'm certainly not qualified to offer such solutions. But given the many secure financial, VPN, and similar transactions that take place via the web (Heartbleed notwithstanding), I would be surprised that appropriate technology doesn't exist already.
    As I've previously explained, there is no analog to the proxy voting problem in online financial services, and Wayland can't afford to acquire the infrastructure needed to protect against denial-of-service attacks and other disruptions that could occur if the internet were employed to support voting from home. The feasibility of participation in Town Meeting from home remains wishful thinking.

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The feasibility of participation in Town Meeting from home remains wishful thinking.
    Unfortunately, for 95% of the registered voters in town, participation in Town Meeting from Town Meeting remains wishful thinking as well.

  12. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Unfortunately, for 95% of the registered voters in town, participation in Town Meeting from Town Meeting remains wishful thinking as well.
    Many of those who do not attend Town Meeting could attend if they chose to do so. Conscious choice is not wishful thinking.

  13. #28
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    The wishful thinking is on my part--I wasn't presuming to speak for them.

  14. #29
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    This letter appeared online on the Crier today: http://wayland.wickedlocal.com/artic...NEWS/140416407, which I thought was a fair brief summary of Town Meeting problems.

    I haven't fact-checked the average age comment, though Dave Bernstein probably has this info on the tip of his tongue to confirm or correct. Also, I know the hours/year number is overstated since the Fall sessions tend to be considerably shorter.

    Still the basic points are fair, and consistent with the debate here to date. She views the cost of attending Town Meeting as a "poll tax", calculates it at over $250-375/year/household (using her babysitting rates and Dave's hours/year, adjusted for extra time for getting to and from town meeting, the actual cost would be $170-$255), and wonders how to improve the system so it doesn't work in favor of those without young children.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jeanne Brown
    Why do just 3 percent of our voters attend Town Meeting, on average? Why is the average age of those in attendance 63 years? Because our current system of government – with debate on the Town Meeting floor that lasts for hours – favors voters without young children.

    We have the warrant articles well in advance of Town Meeting. Can’t we have some of the debate in advance as well? How can we better leverage technology so everyone in town can know all sides of an issue before voting?

    Wayland needs to have a serious discussion on how we can improve Town Meeting so all our voices can be heard.

  15. #30
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    The provision of on-site child care has repeatedly been proposed as a way to improve Town Meeting attendance. This would be more practical if Town Meeting were held on weekend afternoons.

    Dave

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