Town Meeting voters nix quorum requirement

By Matthew Bernat | Apr 24, 2017

Advocates of eliminating Town Meeting's quorum requirement believe less will be more.

On Monday, on the recommendation of the Board of Selectmen, Annual Town Meeting voters did away with a rule that requires a 150-person quorum for agenda items that cost $5,000 or more and a 100-person quorum for agenda items with no financial component.

It’s now possible for Town Meeting to conduct business with, at a minimum, two people – the town clerk and town moderator.

Both Selectman Patrick Tropeano and Town Counsel Richard Bowen said they witnessed similar rule changes in other towns. And the result was surprising.

“It passed, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a town meeting with less 300 people,” said Bowen, who had served as moderator in the town he lives in for at least 15 years.

Tropeano agreed. After the town he previously lived in did away with the quorum, Tropeano said attendance skyrocketed.

“They continue to get 400 to 600 people every single town meeting,” said Tropeano. “I’m telling you more people will be in these seats and if we can get more people here I’m all for it.”

Voters approved the measure by a large majority on a voice vote.

Comments (28)
Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 26, 2017 09:41

So if only two people (Clerk and Moderator) are needed now for a Town Meeting to be conducted and only they show up, or maybe a handful of people show up, and the vote splits right down the middle 50% for and 50% against...what happens to the article being voted upon? Or do we just hope one of the 50% voting blocks can out shout the other?



Posted by: WantToSeeChange | Apr 26, 2017 10:24

Apparently there is no need to worry about that Andrea.  This will bring more people to the meetings.  Somehow this will make the people of Wareham care more.  It is virtually guaranteed by Bowen and Tropeano above.

All kidding aside, your question is valid and I would like to know what the answer to that is.  Of course, there is a possibility that this could happen with a room of 400 people as well, just very less likely.



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 26, 2017 11:00

Televise a Q and A session along with discussion for and against. Then have the articles on the ballet for Town elections. Any and all Fire District votes for the year should be on the same ballet. You would get more participation that way.



Posted by: Peter W. Teitelbaum | Apr 26, 2017 13:23

..."and the vote splits right down the middle 50% for and 50% against...what happens to the article being voted upon?"

 

It would fail, as all motions at Town Meeting must pass by at least a majority (and by 2/3 in certain circumstances).



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 26, 2017 14:53

Sphere - I agree holding voting on Warrant Articles during an election at polls would give a far greater number of registered voters an opportunity to participate in the process than does limiting voting to only those who are able to attend Town Meeting. Elected officials aren't elected by only those who are able to attend Town Meeting, they are elected by a town wide paper ballot election...seems to me that issues affecting the entire town should be voted upon in the same manner.



Posted by: Peter W. Teitelbaum | Apr 26, 2017 21:29

State law dictates the allowable forms of Town government and how the legislative branch of Town government is constituted and convened.  Voting on Town Meeting articles at the ballot box doesn't fit within those parameters, nor would it allow for debate about or amendment of what is proposed, which is the raison d'etre for having a legislative branch in the first place.



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 27, 2017 08:49

People could still debate at Town meeting all they want. Could the results of the vote at Town meeting be voted on during Town election by giving the Election voters the option to accept or not accept the results of the Town Meeting Vote with a yes or no vote on each article? Most if not all people have their mind made up on articles long before Town meeting. This would give so many more input in what's happening in Town.



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 10:25

Aside from the fact your proposal is contrary to state law, as pointed out by Mr. Teitlbaum, the idea of voting on all the articles of the Town Meeting AND Water District Meetings in a town wide election is totally absurd.  There were over 30 articles on the warrants of the special TM and regular spring TM this past Monday (for those of us who actually attended).  Add the 24 or so articles at the District meeting, and you would have a ballot with OVER 50 items to vote on.  Add the regular election of public officials (selectmen etc) and you would have a ballot with between 50-65 items to be voted on.

 

Who in their right mind would want to go into a voting booth with a ballot the size of a mini novella and spend the time nessicary to read through 50+ TM articles, some very lengthy by their very nature, and begin to attempt to make a rational decision on each one.  And please, don't tell me how voters would investigate the articles before hand.  That would be in line with the same fantasy that your proposal is to begin with.

 

We have a system where every voter has the opportunity to express their views on all the articles already, it's called Town Meeting.  If people don't want to take the time to go to a 2 to 3 hour meeting twice a year to vote, what makes you think they are going to want to go into a voting booth and fill out a ballot that is longer than the SAT's?



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 10:25

Aside from the fact your proposal is contrary to state law, as pointed out by Mr. Teitlbaum, the idea of voting on all the articles of the Town Meeting AND Water District Meetings in a town wide election is totally absurd.  There were over 30 articles on the warrants of the special TM and regular spring TM this past Monday (for those of us who actually attended).  Add the 24 or so articles at the District meeting, and you would have a ballot with OVER 50 items to vote on.  Add the regular election of public officials (selectmen etc) and you would have a ballot with between 50-65 items to be voted on.

 

Who in their right mind would want to go into a voting booth with a ballot the size of a mini novella and spend the time nessicary to read through 50+ TM articles, some very lengthy by their very nature, and begin to attempt to make a rational decision on each one.  And please, don't tell me how voters would investigate the articles before hand.  That would be in line with the same fantasy that your proposal is to begin with.

 

We have a system where every voter has the opportunity to express their views on all the articles already, it's called Town Meeting.  If people don't want to take the time to go to a 2 to 3 hour meeting twice a year to vote, what makes you think they are going to want to go into a voting booth and fill out a ballot that is longer than the SAT's?



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 27, 2017 11:26

I guess you are happy to stay in your box PMB.



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 12:03

Well Sphere...I'll have to say that I am quite happy in the "box" that I'm in on this issue.  It's called Reality, and I suggest you join me and the 200 or so people who took the time to get off their couches and away from their keyboards and actually particpate in our local government..



Posted by: Uptohere | Apr 27, 2017 12:20

What about voters who can't leave their homes. We have an older population that can't physically get out to vote. How do they get their voice heard?



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 27, 2017 12:21

In 2010, The Charter Review Committee (Chairman Alan Slavin) brought a Charter change proposal before Town Meeting, that if passed would have allowed Warrant Articles to be placed on a ballot to be voted on at the polls. (See excerpt from 2010 Wareham Week article.)

Were the 2010 Charter Change Proposals vetted for compliance to state law dictates before being brought before Town Meeting for a vote? Or did the Charter Review Committee bring a proposal before Town Meeting that was “contrary to state law?”

Charter changes spark debate among Selectmen

By Jaime Rebhan | Oct 02, 2010

Selectmen disagreed on which action to recommend for a number of the Charter Review articles, including one that would change the format of Town Meeting, allowing 25 Town Meeting voters to petition for "the most important articles affecting town residents" to be taken out of the hands of Town Meeting, put on a ballot, and voted on at the polls within 60 days of the end of Town Meeting. (Fifty registered voters could do the same, prior to Town Meeting.)

"You'd hopefully have a much higher turnout," said Charter Review Committee Chair Alan Slavin.

http://wareham-ma.villagesoup.com/p/charter-changes-spark-debate-among-selectmen/3250?cid=15040

 



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 27, 2017 12:50

Andrea, Thanks again for your memory which is far superior to mine.

 

Uptohere, Voices should be heard and as you detail many cannot get out for one reason or the other. Perhaps someday we can be heard in the ballot box rather than PMBs



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 27, 2017 15:11

During a lengthy debate at 2010 Town Meeting, several people spoke in behalf of those who because of a variety of life's circumstances cannot attend Town Meeting but who because of the number of hours that polls are open and the much shorter amount of time that voting at the polls requires would be able to vote on Warrant Articles at the polls. During the debate a number of issues which prevent elderly from attending lengthy Town Meetings but which would not prevent them from voting at the polls were emphasized.

Speaking in opposition, an attendee stepped up to the microphone and said that if the elderly required oxygen tanks they could just drag them along with them to Town Meeting.

 



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 16:12

Andrea and Sphere...in the issue of the proposed Charter change that you bring up from 2010, you fail to mention that by the vote of the people , the changes that you highlighted were defeated by an overwhelming majority.  The voters in 2010 had no appetite for a long drawn out process to deal with TM warrant articles, and I doubt very much that the sentiment has changed much in2017.

 

We already have the ability to place important questions facing the town on the town wide ballot.  We have done this for override questions, for school construction questions, and just recently to see what the voters felt about the town plowing non-acccepted roads.  (A point I find ironic in that Sphere has become the champion of putting All articles on a ballot, but when we have done so in the past, he finds fault with the results if they don't match HIS view...as it applied to plowing non-accepted roads).  The point that initiated this discussion was not about putting just the most important articles on the ballot,  but rather placing ALL articles from not only TM, but also the Water Districts.  For this I stated my point about the idea being impractical and frankly foolish to even consider.

 

When the issue of voter participation is discussed, we always hear the same chorus.  What about the people who can't get to TM, or people who work at night..etc. etc.  To this I say, that is unfortunate, but NO system is perfect.  It's a red herring to use the excuse that a few people are shut out of the process, when participation is ALREADY extremely low at town elections and town meetings.  Do you really think creating a 50 to 65 question ballot is going to increase either?



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 16:26

And one quick point just to be clear.  I am not Anti-Senior Citizen by any means, in that I AM a Senior Citizen and have been one for a number of years (unfortunately).



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 27, 2017 19:18

PMB, the vote was the vote, I don't agree with it but it is what it is. I do have a HUGE problem having to pay for someone's private road repairs to make it safe for the plows so we can plow them for free. Why don't we just replace their roofs and gutters while we are at it.



Posted by: totellthetruth | Apr 27, 2017 20:13

Great idea Sphere! Where do I sign up for the gutters?



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 20:16

You have had a Hugh problem with the vote since it passed.  So much for putting important issues on the ballot and giving everyone a voice. A good way to govern as long as you agree with the result it seems.   As for plowing the unaccepted roads for "free".  Last I heard, even homes on unaccepted roads pay the same in property taxes as the homes on the accepted roads....not exactly a free ride, wouldn't you say?  We are wildly off topic here so I think I will give this line of discussion a rest.



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 27, 2017 21:04

PMB – My statement/opinion quoted below, is specific to Town Meeting and makes no mention of the Fire District.

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 26, 2017 14:53

Sphere - I agree holding voting on Warrant Articles during an election at polls would give a far greater number of registered voters an opportunity to participate in the process than does limiting voting to only those who are able to attend Town Meeting.

Peter Teitelbaum’s reply quoted below appears to me to be specific to Town Meeting as it also makes no mention of the Fire Districts:

Posted by: Peter W. Teitelbaum | Apr 26, 2017 21:29

State law dictates the allowable forms of Town government and how the legislative branch of Town government is constituted and convened.  Voting on Town Meeting articles at the ballot box doesn't fit within those parameters, nor would it allow for debate about or amendment of what is proposed, which is the raison d'etre for having a legislative branch in the first place.

Aware that the 2010 Charter Review Committee had brought a proposal before Town Meeting that would if passed have allowed voting on Town Meeting Warrant articles to be done by ballot at polls, I was surprised by Peter Teitelbaum’s above quoted comment. Surprised I posted the following comment and questions which are also specific to Town Meeting and make no mention of the Fire Districts:

Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 27, 2017 12:21

In 2010, The Charter Review Committee (Chairman Alan Slavin) brought a Charter change proposal before Town Meeting, that if passed would have allowed Warrant Articles to be placed on a ballot to be voted on at the polls. (See excerpt from 2010 Wareham Week article.)

Were the 2010 Charter Change Proposals vetted for compliance to state law dictates before being brought before Town Meeting for a vote? Or did the Charter Review Committee bring a proposal before Town Meeting that was “contrary to state law?”



Posted by: PMB | Apr 27, 2017 23:03

My initial comment was in response to Sphere's comment, the third one down from the top.  Go up and reread his post.  That was what my first post referred to.  He suggested that ALL articles TM and Fire Dristict, be voted by ballot.  You somehow, morphed the discussion into the 2010 Charter Review's recommendations.  Not really what I was commenting on.



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 28, 2017 11:03

PMB – The “raison d'etre” that the discussion “morphed” into the 2010 Charter Review’s recommendations is as follows:

Peter Teitelbaum’s comment under this article (and quoted following this sentence) appeared to me to dismiss the possibility of Town Meeting Warrant Articles being put on a town wide ballot to be voted upon at the polls.

Teitelbaum said, “State law dictates the allowable forms of Town government and how the legislative branch of Town government is constituted and convened.  Voting on Town Meeting articles at the ballot box doesn't fit within those parameters, nor would it allow for debate about or amendment of what is proposed, which is the raison d'etre for having a legislative branch in the first place.”

Knowing that the 2010 Charter Review Committee (Alan Slavin, Chairman) had brought a charter change proposal before Town Meeting that would, if passed, allow voting on Warrant Articles at the polls and doubting that Alan Slavin or the committee as a whole would have presented a charter change proposal without first vetting it for compliance with state law, I posted the following response and questions:

“In 2010, The Charter Review Committee (Chairman Alan Slavin) brought a Charter change proposal before Town Meeting, that if passed would have allowed Warrant Articles to be placed on a ballot to be voted on at the polls. (See excerpt from 2010 Wareham Week article.)

Were the 2010 Charter Change Proposals vetted for compliance to state law dictates before being brought before Town Meeting for a vote? Or did the Charter Review Committee bring a proposal before Town Meeting that was “contrary to state law?”

Also to clear up any other confusion that may remain regarding my comments: I did not suggest under this article, nor have I ever suggested at any time that Town Meeting should be abolished, that articles should not be debated, or that articles should not be amended before being brought to a final vote. Nor did the charter review committee suggest, promote, or intend for any of the aforementioned to occur.

If the article had passed, Town Meeting would still have been convened, those who wished to debate articles, or to ask questions in order to better understand issues would have still had an opportunity to do so, and amendments, if proposed, would still have been voted upon. Then based upon the results of a vote taken at Town Meeting, some Warrant Articles might have been placed upon an election ballot to be presented at the polls.

My belief remains as it always has been that “holding voting on Warrant Articles during an election at polls would give a far greater number of registered voters an opportunity to participate in the process than does limiting voting to only those who are able to attend Town Meeting.” The fact that Town Meeting voted down a charter change that would have allowed Warrant Articles to be voted on by ballot at the polls, did not change my opinion on the subject.



Posted by: MDonahue | Apr 28, 2017 15:29

People act as though the only time the decisions in town government take place is at Town Meeting. What about information sessions, workshops, public hearings, etc. that take place every week in Wareham and can shape the conversation on issues.  The BOS, the Fincom and any other board that I have ever worked with would welcome public input.  Get on a committee and shape policy, or just go to a meeting and ask questions.  OR - get this - you can contact the board members (the BOS are you elected representatives!).  They live right here in town.  You can email most of them.  The people sitting on the stage at Town Meeting spend months reviewing and preparing the material the we vote on at Town Meeting.  I am not comfortable with the idea that anyone who is registered can walk in and a check a box.  If we had voters who were educated on the issues, maybe, but since there are no requirements other than age and residency, I will trust those that care enough to give up their time to sit at town meeting actually care about this issues.  At least I know they had to listen to the explanation and arguments for and against the articles.

 



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 29, 2017 18:18

As long as you are comfortable with it MDonahue I guess Wareham will be OK. The disenfranchised take solace in that.



Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 29, 2017 18:18

As long as you are comfortable with it MDonahue I guess Wareham will be OK. The disenfranchised take solace in that.



Posted by: Steve Holmes | Apr 30, 2017 08:41

This just makes it official. When the meeting convenes there is a count, and as long as there is enough people the meeting begins. There have been many times, after a particular issue a whole bunch of people leave, and a quorum is no longer in the seats. But unless someone calls for a new quorum count, the meeting continues. I mentioned the other day several times we had to go out into the parking lot to call friends to show up so that we could begin the meeting. To me its not so much showing up because many worked all the hours to put Articles on the Warrant and do all the research etc., those people all volunteered for those jobs. Residents should show up because this is their Town and these meetings control where most all of our money is being spent. As well as creating laws that govern the Town. I do agree about the shut ins and our seniors, with todays technology, there are ways to register, prove that you are watching the meetings, and vote from your home. I am sure they could put an Article together, do the research and come up with a solution. I don't believe this decision was made to pass things with fewer people, rather more out of necessity, because the residents don't show up, and we cant blame the seniors for that. 



Posted by: Andrea Smith | Apr 30, 2017 15:24

There are many reasons in addition to being a shut-in or elderly that can prevent residents from attending Town Meeting, among them (but not limited to) night shift employment, working two jobs, long hours at work followed by a long commute and a very late dinner, couples who schedule work shifts so that one is home as a care giver (child/elder parent/ special needs) during the day and the other is home to be the care giver at night, and being a single parent, struggling to make ends meet and unable to afford a baby sitter, or unable to find a sitter with the qualifications necessary to care for a special needs child or elderly parent.

There are also the issues of employee benefits and/or the lack of them. I understand it can sometimes be difficult for those who are self-employed or whose employers include a generous number of sick days and personal days in their benefit packages to imagine, but there are a lot of jobs especially in the low-moderate income sector that allow so few paid sick/personal days that employees who wish to keep their jobs dare only use them for reasons of severe illness or in case of emergency.

Coming up with a way for people who can not attend Town Meeting to prove they are watching meetings, is an interesting idea. But even being present at Town Meeting doesn't guarantee full attention to discussions or debates. Minds can wander. Smart phones, even though they have been silenced, can distract. Whispered conversations can interrupt concentration. And those who vote at Town Meetings can arrive at a meeting as the debate of an article is ending, check-in and find a seat in time to be included in the vote count.

When Town Meeting procedures send a debt exclusion article to a ballot at the polls, those who vote at the polls aren’t required to have attended the Town Meeting or to show proof of having watched the Town Meeting during which the article was discussed.

And then there are the national, state and local elections, many of which include ballot questions. Voters in those elections are not required to demonstrate their level of issue-specific knowledge before being allowed to vote.



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