March 16, 2014
Town Meeting 2014
I attended my first Hillsboro town meeting on Tuesday, after voting. I am used to attending Deering's meetings on Saturday, and that usually lasts anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. I knew I was in for a short night of sleep, being on a week night, but there was nothing to do bu buck up and deal with it.
First surprise: They didn't announce that they were following Robert's Rule of Order. Not neccessarily a bad thing, but it meant I didn't know the language the would use (I never heard the words "move the article", "move to vote", 'point of order" etc.
Second surprise, they commonly create articles that are "nonlapsing until xxx date" meaning that we would be obligated for a matching sum neach year until the date was reached (usually until December of 2015 for this year's articles).
Third Surprise: it was madatory that you walk up to the front and talk into a microphone, and address the board. That meant you didnt' get to face your fellow voters, and you were definitely in the spotlight when speaking. I have never had an issue being heard at town meeting, and I found the requirement that we strictly face the selectboard to be a bit disconcerting.
Fourth Surprise: Whenever the board was asked a question for information, rarely did they have a clue who would/could answer the question. Often there was a couple of minutes of silence before any type of response was given. The board did not seem as knowledgeable as I am used to, nor did they seem to recognize when it would be best or easier to call on a town employee to respond.
Fifth Surprise: the town is just now getting around to establishing capital reserve funds for such things as municipal building repairs.
Sixth Surprise: They hand out voter cards, but don't use them for hand votes. Any outcomes that couldn't be deterimined by voice vote, they asked the voters to stand at when "Yeah" or "Nay" was called. I am used to holding up the voter card and remaining sitting. However, it was niced to get off my butt for a minute.
Surprise 7: Even though the voters seemed to be determined to spend lots of money and pass every article, they did not approve purchasing a 5 acre tract of land for conservation purposes. If the selectboard had done a test on the land, to ensure there were no contaminant, this probably would have passed. But it seems that they figured since it was upstream from a former mill site, it couldn't possibly be contaminated. This site also happens to be downstream from the papermill in another town. I gather from the discussion that the town has purchased several parcels of contaminated land - which they found out after the fact so had to spend lots of money to clean up. You would think the selectboard would wake up after that happened a couple of time!
Biggest Surprise: The first 3 main articles worth over 7 MILLION dollars, comprising of the town budget as well as the water and sewer department budgets, all passed without a single comment from the voters. NOT ONE! To wit, they didn't even go thru the town budget line by line to give the voters an opportunity to discus and/or ammend that line item. A big change from Deering!
No Surprise: one of the articles worth the least amount of money took up the most time. $11,000 wasw argued over for 20 minutes or more. (the article was actually for 17k, but 6k was coming from a grant).
And the last point: if anyone ever says that they can't make a difference by attending town meeting, Hillsboro passed one article by 1 vote. Yes, 1 vote (58 to 57). This standing vote was actually taken twice since it was so close. One more person could have defeated the measure (or forced a secret ballot). And by the way, a whole bunch of people in attendance didn't vote as I estimate there were around 150 people in attendance.
I've seen the same thing in our town meeting, where big ticket warrant articles are passed with nary a comment, while small ones with little money involved are debated to death.
Then again, in our town the town and school budgets entail a number of public hearings leading up to town meeting, so just about everyone is cognizant of what they contain. I attend most of them (sometimes I can't because have a conflict, usually dealing with either our Planning Board - I am a member- or a BOD meeting of our local Public Access TV channel). There's usually a lot of discussion and debate during the hearings. I certainly see enough coverage in the local papers and a lot of comments in the Letters to the Editor.
About the number of people attending versus the number voting, it's possible that those not voting are not registered voters, or own land in town but aren't residents, meaning they can't vote. I attend town meetings in the towns where I own land (a few acres here and there, bought when I was working a ton of overtime at Raytheon way back when). While I can't vote in those towns, I do have the right to ask questions and make comments since I am a taxpayer in that town, something most people don't realize. Such folks have to present themselves to the moderator before the meeting to 'petition' to speak during the meeting, but I've never seen anyone turned away.
Posted by: DCE at Mar 16, 2014 11:09:32 AM
That's what happens when you move to the big city! *chuckling*
I am now secretary of our homeowners' association. One of the board members has drawn up a draft of a new covenant that he wants to apply to everyone in our jurisdiction. Get this: he wants to outlaw outdoor clotheslines and vegetable gardens. I don't think he has a prayer. I've not finished the work to confirm it; but, I believe that our jurisdiction is now covered by about five or six different versions of covenants - and - that each addition's residents must vote separately on any covenant change that would apply to their property. (The "old" board members think that a vote of the entire HOA membership is sufficient.)
Posted by: Cop Car at Mar 16, 2014 12:31:13 PM
Bogie, we'd like to invite you to become one of our Authors in Alexandria. This invitation has been extended to you by email as well.
In addition to posting on anything you wish, as you desire, you may of course mirror posts you've already written from here or elsewhere to gain a different or additional audience or for any other reason that appeals to you.
If you think you might be interested, contact me through Alexandria or by return email via this comment and I'll forward our formal invitations for you to look over and return if you decide to proceed.
Come contribute your perspectives and opinions to the ongoing conversations there or, even better, start some new - and different - ones of your own.
I look forward to hearing from you.
H. M. Stuart
Posted by: HMS at Mar 16, 2014 6:35:46 PM
DCE - you have a good point, but a lot of those people that didn't vote on that article DID vote on others (the lady beside me for example). So, I assume they were registered voters for the town.
That was something else I noticed, Deering had a section for non-voters, but interested people. Deering also usually made the first motion as one in which non-voters may speak to articles. Non of that was done in Hillsboro.
Posted by: bogie at Mar 22, 2014 7:31:06 AM
Gilford does much the same thing, with non-voters being relegated to one side of the auditorium.
Some voters are, unfortunately, single issue voters. They're there to deal with one or two warrant articles of interest to them and nothing more. You'd think they'd want to be involved in making decisions that will have a direct effect on their property taxes, wouldn't you? But too often people are "too busy" to be bothered with such mundane things like town and school spending.
My best rejoinder when someone bitches about their property taxes is to ask them whether they bothered to attend town meeting/deliberative session and to vote. If their answer is "no", I say to them "Then you have no right to complain. You couldn't be bothered to vote, so you shouldn't be bothered with the size of your tax bill."
That usually shuts 'em up.
Posted by: DCE at Mar 22, 2014 3:17:30 PM