CET Recommendations – Assigned Questions

This is the second post in a series of four posts about the report of the Community Engagement Team (CET) to the selectboard on November 20. A list of the posts in this series is at the bottom of this post. Please read the first post in this series for context and a link to the CET’s full report.

This post is about the assigned questions in the CET’s mission statement.

Should town meeting be held on a different day of the week or different time of day or both?

The CET recommends that town meeting continue to be held on the same day as always, the first Tuesday in March. This is the traditional day for town meeting in Vermont. It is a state holiday (1 V.S.A. § 371). Cambridge schools are on vacation. Employees in Vermont have the right to take unpaid leave for town meeting (21 V.S.A. § 472b). The CET was persuaded by the research of Susan Clark and Frank Bryan that changing the day of town meeting does not increase attendance, and may decrease attendance.

Town meeting in Cambridge has traditionally started at 10:00 AM. The CET recommends that this be changed to 9:00 AM. The CET feels that some citizens would take a half-day off from work, but not a full day. There is a noted drop in attendance after lunch, anyway, and starting earlier would facilitate participation by more people in more of the business of the town.

These recommendations were unanimous.

Should issues that are currently decided by a vote in town meeting (following an opportunity for discussion) instead be decided by Australian ballot?

The CET does not recommend that any issues currently decided by floor vote be changed to Australian ballot. While this position was not unanimous, a majority of the CET was persuaded by the views of Susan Clark and Frank Bryan that Australian balloting decreases the quality of local democracy. Floor votes allow for discussion, the opportunity to change others’ minds, and amendments. Towns that have changed to Australian balloting have seen decreased attendance at town meeting. Susan Clark and Frank Bryan argue that what brings people to town meeting, and engage in discussions with their neighbors, is having substantive issues to decide in floor votes.

There is one article currently decided by Australian ballot – the Cambridge Elementary School budget. This was decided by floor vote until it was changed to Australian ballot at the 2007 town meeting. The CET considered recommending an article be placed in the warning for citizens to vote on possibly changing this back to a floor vote, but decided not to make such a recommendation.

Should the selectboard be increased from three to five persons?

The CET recommends that an article be placed in the warning for citizens to vote on increasing the size of the selectboard from three to five persons.

The CET was not unanimous on this issue, but a majority of the CET felt that it should be in the warning for voters to decide. The CET did not take a position on whether or not it hopes that the article will pass.

This was considered at the 2006 town meeting; it did not pass.

Should the CET be established as a long-term committee and reconsider its mission following the issuance of its report?

The CET recommends that it continue as an informal workgroup, not as a formal town committee. People could come and go on the workgroup as they wish, and work on whatever initiatives they wish. The selectboard would not have to worry about designating committee members, and the workgroup would not have to worry about quorum requirements. The workgroup could submit recommendations to the selectboard at any time. This is the model followed in Middlesex, which has a Town Meeting Solutions Committee that Susan Clark is on.

In general, what can the town do to reduce barriers to and facilitate more engagement by all citizens in substantive town affairs and town meetings?

See the next two blog posts about town meeting and a town administrator.

This is part of a series of four related blog posts:

1. Community Engagement Team Report

2. CET Recommendations – Assigned Questions (this post)

3. CET Recommendations – Town Meeting

4. CET Recommendations – Town Administrator

Please read the first post in this series for context and a link to the CET’s full report. My posts are my own views, and do not necessarily represent the views of either the CET or the selectboard.

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