CET Recommendations – Town Meeting

This is the third 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 town meeting. Other posts in this series also include recommendations that pertain to town meeting. This post is about additional recommendations pertaining to town meeting. It is the longest post in my series of four posts about the CET’s report. Even so, my comments below are only a summary; please see the CET’s full report for details. The CET had a lot to say about town meeting.

Childcare

The CET recommends that childcare be provided at town meeting. This was a significant finding from the survey. Johnson recently began providing childcare at their town meeting, with good results, and could serve as a model. The CET’s report provides several options for consideration.

Food and music

The CET recommends providing food and music before the beginning of town meeting, to make the event more inviting and to encourage citizens to come early and mingle. Again, Johnson recently started this, and could serve as a model.

Audio and video

The CET recommends more microphones, a total of five: one for the moderator; an additional microphone on the stage to be shared by other town officials; two roving microphones on the floor; and a fixed microphone on a stand in the center of the floor. There were only two microphones at the 2017 town meeting, one for the stage and one roving microphone for the floor. This was not adequate. The CET recommends that the two roving microphones be carried by both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, not just Boy Scouts. Town Moderator Jerry Cole suggested adding a fixed microphone, and the CET concurs. Citizens who feel they aren’t being recognized by the moderator or the carriers of the roving microphones would have the option to line up at the fixed microphone where they would be readily seen by the moderator.

The CET recommends that town meeting be videoed for later playback, and livestreamed if possible.

Warnings

In 2017 for the first time, town meeting was broken into two portions: town meeting and town school district meeting. This is appropriate, and will continue. The CET recommends two separate warnings. The CET recommends that town meeting come first, followed by the town school district meeting. The articles that will likely generate the most discussion are in town meeting.

The CET recognizes the importance of well-constructed warnings. The CET appreciates the input of Town Moderator Jerry Cole in the discussions about the warnings. Note that the CET’s recommendations about the warning for town meeting are submitted to the selectboard for consideration, while recommendations about the warning for the town school district meeting are submitted to the school board for Cambridge Elementary School for consideration.

The CET recognizes that what brings people to town meeting are substantive issues to decide. There will be a number of substantive issues at the 2018 town meeting. The selectboard will likely put several money issues in the warning: the commuter bus (again); the sidewalks (again, the amount approved last year was not sufficient); and the Bartlett Hill/Pumpkin Harbor Road project (with cost estimates from the engineer). The CET is recommending two substantive additions to the warning: increasing the size of the selectboard from three to five (see previous post); and adding a town administrator (see next post). There will be plenty to talk about.

The CET has other minor recommendations for changes to the warnings that are detailed in its report to the selectboard.

In Vermont there is a process for citizens to petition for articles to be added to the warning. The petition must be signed by at least 5% of the voters in the town, and it must be filed with the town clerk not less than 47 days before town meeting. The deadline for the 2018 town meeting is Thursday, January 18, 2018. See 17 V.S.A. § 2642(a)(3) and the “Local Petitions” page on the Secretary of State’s website for more information.

Education and Communication

The CET survey showed that Front Porch Forum is the leading source of information for citizens about town issues. Especially since town meeting, Town Clerk/Treasurer Mark Schilling has made good use of Front Porch Forum to communicate to citizens about town government. This is an excellent improvement.

Even so, the CET recommends that more be done to communicate to voters how town meeting and town government work. Following is a summary of the CET’s ideas; see the report for details.

The summary of parliamentary procedures in the town report could be improved.

The CET recommends that this 2-page document about town meeting, from the Vermont Institute for Government, be included in the town report.

The CET recommends a Front Porch Forum series in the days/weeks before town meeting: “Ten Things to Know about Town Meeting.”

The CET recommends education about town meeting for school children.

The town’s website has much useful information, but it is dated and not easy to use. Mark Schilling plans to include funds in the town’s 2018 budget to upgrade the website, and the CET concurs. My personal hope is that when the town’s website is upgraded, it can be moved from the “.org” domain to the “.gov” domain as I discussed here and here.

The CET recommends that the town create a “policy and service guide” similar to the Middlesex Operator’s Manual that Susan Clark shared with us. A copy of the Middlesex Operator’s Manual is in the town office if you wish to look at it. Regretfully, it does not exist as a single PDF document that I can link to. Pieces of it are in various places on the Town of Middlesex website. There is, however, a similar document, inspired by the Middlesex Operator’s Manual, available online as a single PDF file: the Tinmouth Operator’s Manual.

Some of these recommendations concerning education and communication would benefit from additional resources. See the next post about a town administrator.

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

1. Community Engagement Team Report

2. CET Recommendations – Assigned Questions

3. CET Recommendations – Town Meeting (this post)

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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