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Thursday, January 5, 2017

When Pigs Fly? In North Andover !

Templeton Watch - Jeff Bennett

 Dear Neighbors:

 Please allow me to invite all citizens to North Andover’s upcoming Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday evening May 10, 2016 commencing at 7:00PM in the North Andover High School auditorium. You have allowed me the great privilege of presiding at Town Meeting the past four years. Thank you. 

During these years I have sought to significantly modernize the functions, rules, reach and conduct of Town Meeting while making deliberate effort to preserve the traditions and procedures of the past that work. Collectively, the deliberate introduction of technology, improved procedures and new rules has made the meeting what I have promised – fair, open and efficient. At this moment I can report that we will put a pause on new initiatives. As well, there are no rules changes for this upcoming Annual Town Meeting. 

I will continue to endeavor to conduct the meeting in a manner that offers a more appropriately informal discussion among participants for the purpose of easing voter understanding of the issues to be decided during this vital community conversation that we call Town Meeting. Your open-minded embrace of the changes made these years has had consequence elsewhere. Communities across the state have noted our initiatives such as use of real time on screen editing of articles, live web streaming and broadcast of proceedings, personal financial disclosure requirements and the appointment of Citizen Advocates to guide attendees in crafting motions or amendments that they wish to present. Our most far- reaching initiative to allow questions to be submitted from citizens, via email, who cannot attend the meeting itself has garnered significant discussion across the Commonwealth.

 In this, our third year of allowing more open access to the meeting, there will be at least one other community offering the same opportunity and several more planning to institute our groundbreaking program. These communities share my belief that Town Meeting serves two constituencies – those who attend and participate in the meeting, and those who are governed by what is decided at Town Meeting. 

Procedures for accessing the on-line email forum in North Andover will be published two weeks before the meeting on the Town’s web site. It is important to note that the power of the meeting remains with those who do take the time and effort to be present, listen, deliberate and vote at the meeting. While all power is in the room, all helpful knowledge may not be in attendance. 

Interestingly, there is an effort in the Legislature to allow full remote participation at Town Meeting, including the right to vote. While a full virtual Town Meeting experience will not likely come for many years, I am pleased that we sparked conversations in our Commonwealth to assure that Town Meeting does not become an anachronism – a dinosaur of governance anchored to history and not relevant to the lives

The North Andover Town Charter gives the Moderator the unilateral power to establish rules of parliamentary procedure in simplified form for Town Meeting. Significant new rules of procedure, including the first-ever in the nation requirement of disclosure of personal financial interest, have now been established and part of our practice for four years deserve note for those who have not participated before. If you are a first time participant or just need a refresher please do read the rules below in order to make our deliberative experience together the most productive possible for the entire community. 

Participating in our annual community assembly is a hallmark of Open Town Meeting. The general tenure of respectful deliberation and debate are governed by and evidenced in our neighbors’ adherence to the three simple behaviors below: 

It is asked that petitioners and follow-up speakers who address the meeting provide only new information in an effort to persuade undecided voters. Continued repetition of previously heard information as a show of support takes time and does little to positively influence the outcome of a vote. 

Please refrain from unnecessary applause or negative responses during discussions. 

Keeping remarks brief and relevant shows respect for the value of your neighbors’ time. The most persuasive statements at Town Meeting are often those succinctly stated, disclosing new facts or arguments in an effort to advance a position while retaining the audience’s full attention. The five minute speaking time limit will be strictly enforced. 

Lastly, please review the Simplified Rules of Parliamentary Procedure, Addendums on Electronic and Visual Presentations, a Glossary of Town Meeting Terms and Participants as well as the Town By-laws that relate to Town Meeting. These rules and other information presented below will be helpful to all who attend, speak and/or present at Town Meeting. 

Town Meeting remains a unique tradition – one we are reinventing with each session and initiative we collectively establish. Open Town Meeting remains the most direct and inclusive form of participatory democracy ever utilized in any form of government on this earth. I invite you to contribute to our vital community conversation. 

Please do attend, as every vote counts - and at Town Meeting many votes have consequential generational impact. Be a part of the future.

posted by Jeff Bennett

1 comment:

  1. The idea of having every voter be a part of town meeting is a good one. In some countries they have tried having everyone of voting age have their vote count and this gets the interest up. The problem comes up that not everyone takes the time to learn about the issue. Water fluoridation comes to mind.