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Chaos reigns on fourth night of Town Meeting

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By Tara Hughes Nov.18, 2023

Thursday’s town meeting started out with members shouting out challenges to the moderator regarding the roll call. Moderator Heather von Mering had to request members “not be punchy” and to “take a breath.”

Then von Mering asked that town meeting vote to take Article 33 out of order while the Committee on Regulations met to review a last-minute amendment to Article 30.  After taking a voice vote, the moderator was challenged and agreed to use the electronic voting system it passed 110 to 13.

When they returned to Article 30, a vote was taken to waive the 7-day notice rule to accept an amendment which passed, at which time Precinct 4 member Stephen Boksanski spoke about the article which he proposed, with the new amendment, to establish a clear reappointment process for the Finance Committee (FinCom).  He said he hoped “to put in a process where none exists.”  This article was a competing article to Article 29 which also caused a stir on Monday night.

Article 30, with the new amendment, would change the town’s by-laws on the appointment process of FinCom members by codifying a historical process in which the chair of FinCom convened and presides over the appointment process. It also adds 4.1.3a setting out the reappointment process and allowing current members to be reappointed before new members would be considered. 

In addition, the new amendment would change the makeup of the reappointing committee which in the original article consisted of the moderator, chair of FinCom and prior chair of FinCom to substitute the Board of Assessors chair for the Select Board chair.  A majority vote of the committee is also now required for reappointment. The article also establishes a reappointment committee with a different makeup from the appointment committee, removing the chair of the select board and now adding the chair of the board of assessors.

The Select Board voted against the article as amended because the town is already overdue for a comprehensive review of its charter and by-laws, and the FinCom by-laws could be addressed as part of this review. The Board made a Motion to Indefinitely Postpone. FinCom Chair John Miller said the committee had voted in favor of the amended motion 8 to 3.  He said, “Experienced members are very valuable—it’s how the younger members learn,” adding, “Reappointment should be routine except for malfeasance or non-performance.” 

Several town meeting members pointed out that the two citizen petitions showed we need a reappointment process. But Precinct 1 member Timothy Matthews, who proposed Article 29, said Article 30 is a “naked power grab”. He said it is not an open and transparent motion, it is meant to consolidate power in the hands of people not accountable to the voters and lock in a certain number of members. He was strongly in favor of a motion to indefinitely postpone.

Precinct 8 member Diab Jerius said he was in favor of indefinite postponement because there are “too many questions to understand the ramifications”. Mariano Goluboff, former chair of both the Select Board and FinCom called it a solution “looking for a problem where there isn’t one.  In the last ten years, only two people haven’t been reappointed.  We’re not appointing people based on politics, and in fact we want FinCom to have members with different political views.  They challenge each other.” 

Megan Blackwell (also a FinCom member, but speaking as a Precinct 7 town meeting member) wanted members to vote against indefinite postponement because the motion seeks to address two problems—the lack of clarity in the reappointment process and the potential for conflict between the Select Board and the reappointment of FinCom members who might disagree with the Board on certain issues. She felt that FinCom meetings should be a safe space where one could express and vote their opinion without fear of being voted out or not reappointed. The motion went to a vote after significant discussion, with the Moderator stating a two-thirds vote was required.  It failed to pass.

This vote turned discussion back to the amended motion.  Precinct 1 member Chris Nixon said that he would like to wait on the motion and have further study but since that had failed, he wanted to make a friendly motion to reword 4.1.3a to say “reappointment of current or former members”. He wanted preference given to former members with experience looking to be reappointed even after a break in service. This motion to amend was seconded. Both the petitioner and the Select Board were in favor of the amendment. FinCom abstained on voting favorable or unfavorable action as they believed there was no material change to the motion. The Committee on Government Regulations also chose to make no comment on the new language. Precinct 1 member Ann Sera said that town meeting appeared to be “writing the motion on the floor” and urged a no vote on the motion to amend, but it passed.

The amended Article 30, as additionally amended, returned to limited debate before a Motion to Move the Question (to end debate) was made and seconded, but it failed and debate continued.  Brian Vernaglia (also a FinCom member but speaking as a Precinct 4 member) said that Article 30 “does not increase the independence of FinCom” and that “oversite would be damaged by the passing of Article 30.”

Conflict arose between Colin Simpson from the Committee on Government Regulations, FinCom Chair Miller, and the moderator. Much discussion ensued about the language of the various by-law subsections, with town counsel weighing in. However, an additional Motion to Amend was made and then recalled. 

Debate resumed on the article and Precinct 5 member Carol Savage asked whether this process (in Article 30) would be addressed by the decennial review of the by-laws. The question was referred to Town Clerk MaryEllen Lannon. Lannon said yes, this process could be reviewed.

Lannon then made a confession of sorts to town meeting. She said that the town meeting guidebook that went out around the time the current moderator was elected had an incorrect chart with a typo indicating that a motion to indefinitely postpone required a two-thirds vote, instead of a majority vote. She said the meeting should follow Roberts Rules of Order, and that it needed to be corrected going forward.

After the admission, Carol Savage decided she wanted the FinCom process reviewed correctly and instead of moving again to indefinitely postpone she moved to refer Article 30 as amended to the Decennial Review Committee. The motion was seconded and passed with 109 voting in the affirmative and 29 voting in the negative. 

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