Town Meeting members consider new form of government

By Angie Hilsman | Aug 02, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Town Meeting members participate in a hand vote for each item.

In response to a recent survey, Town Meeting members expressed their concerns with a proposal that would increase the number of meetings held each year, and considered moving away from holding the current biannual meetings altogether.

Town officials have proposed upping Town Meetings to three times each year in order to increase members' input on issues that arise between the scheduled October and June meetings.

The proposal would add a third meeting in March, if approved. Town Meeting currently convenes on Tuesdays, at a June meeting held at 9 a.m. and an October meeting held at 7 p.m. There, elected representatives act as the legislative arm for the town, voting on zoning proposals, noise regulations, and finances.

At the June 2017 meeting, a survey was distributed to gauge Town Meeting members' thoughts and concerns about adding to the expectations. Of the 209 members at the meeting, 123 returned the survey, 122 answered the question related to triannual meetings, and 61 provided open-ended feedback.

While many Town Meeting members addressed issues with scheduling and weather, several proposed moving away from Town Meetings altogether.

"I think with its growth, Dartmouth needs a mayor-council form of government," wrote one survey taker.

"Town Meeting is an antiquated form of government. Instead of increasing the number of meetings, we should be looking at doing away with it," another responded.

"I believe the town should move away from the Town Meeting form of government. There isn't enough diverse interest in Town Meeting now. To add another demand on members' time from work is counter-productive and ill advised," wrote another.

Many survey takers also expressed concern about their availability, adding they already use vacation days to attend the spring Town Meeting, and would prefer night meetings. Some survey takers suggested holding a Saturday meeting.

Scheduling around school vacations and April elections was also addressed.

Other concerns included weather and quorum. Winter conditions can make it harder or near impossible to attend the Town Meetings, and the meetings cannot start without meeting quorum, members said.

There are 323 Town Meeting members. To make quorum, one more than half of the total members must attend, or in this case, 163 members.

Select Board members considered the feedback at the July 31 meeting, and responded to survey organizers Doug Roscoe of the Finance Committee and Shannon Jenkins of the School Committee.

"Anything to make town government a little bit more efficient and easier," said Select Board member Shawn McDonald.

"Let's try to make it as palatable as possible," said member Stan Mickelson.

"We won't know until we try it," said board member John Haran.

The board suggested keeping the two scheduled Town Meetings, and holding a third "special meeting" in March if necessary, which was also suggested by some survey takers.

Select Board members agreed that if a March meeting is held and quorum is not met, the agenda should be incorporated into the June meeting instead of trying to reschedule.

Town Administrator David Cressman said that if both the Finance Committee, Select Board, and possibly the Planning Board all approved a third Town Meeting in March, it would be held as a special meeting. Therefore, Town Meeting members would not have to approve it into the town bylaws.

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