~ Submitted by William Knox
The Moderator is, as much as any Town official, the face of Town Meeting. Different members of the Select Board, Finance Committee, and other boards present the articles, but the Moderator is the constant. The Moderator presents no views on the various articles and makes no recommendations, and is instead a neutral arbiter of the rules of Town Meeting.
The authority granted the Moderator is substantial, and the expectation is that they will use that authority judiciously and fairly. Particularly after our last somewhat contentious Town election, where concerns were expressed about the level of transparency and fairness in Bedford’s government, the need for the Moderator to be seen as an even-handed judge was even more critical. Unfortunately, I believe our Moderator, Mr. Siegenthaler, fell well short of what was needed at this year’s Annual Town Meeting, especially given the heated nature of many of this year’s articles.
Inconsistent acceptance of motions and amendments from the floor and enforcement of time limitations and other rules was problematic, and the clear miscall of the vote for project 23-33 in Article 7 was a huge error.
To be sure, I don’t believe anything Mr. Siegenthaler did fell outside of that broad authority the Moderator holds, nor do I think that Mr. Siegenthaler was attempting to favor one side over the other.
But these mistakes can easily be perceived as attempts to do exactly that, particularly in our current local and national environment of suspicion of the motives of those who hold different political views. Mr. Siegenthaler has likely deepened the distrust in Bedford government and whether it is fair, and has diminished his capacity to be viewed as that just arbiter and the neutral face of Town Meeting that is required, especially in these increasingly divisive times.
I suggest that Mr. Siegenthaler address these issues in a public fashion (perhaps in a letter to the editor.a here or in some other forum) and describe what he will do to regain the confidence of all residents of the Town.
Note from the Opinion Editor: Mr. Knox is the spouse of Select Board member Margot Fleischman
Mr. Seigenthaler did a very good job during bone of the liveliest Town Meetings I’ve been to. And it was his first one. I was glad to see so much engagement and the checks and balances working. Issues were brought to light. Mr Piantedosi’s comments highlight things that need to addressed. Thank you Mark for stepping up and volunteering your time to be our Moderator.
I disagree with this letter. Contrary to what he said, I think the Moderator did a good job considering how contentious this Town Meeting was along with the huge crowd in two different locations and his first time as moderator. I don’t see any reason that our Moderator needs to write any letter of apology. However, the job by our Select Board was the worst I have ever seen at any town meeting and I think they are the ones who need to address some serious shortcomings. A few examples include: one member who could not answer simple questions on her own about the articles she was presenting. The transportation capital article which failed due to the lack of transparency of what was in it and the failure of the Select Board member who presented it to answer questions adequately about it. The angry abutter to the Bikeway Project who voiced legitimate complaints that were not properly addressed including being notified one day before Town Meeting that the Town was taking his land. The Fire Station Project including: Carol Amick offering to donate her three-acre parcel at 287 Great Road which appeared to be ignored by the Select Board. The lack of a formal process that is required under Mass General Law chapter 30B soliciting proposals to acquire land for the Fire Station Project. The response to the question raised about what the Select Board would do if the Historic District Commission did not approve demolishing the historic structure at 139 Great Road: they would take it back to Town Meeting to vote to exclude 139 Great Road from the Historic District. Also, in past Town Meetings large bonded articles required a secret ballot vote. This should have been the case for the Fire Station Project which passed by only a few votes.
Amen Joe, spot on with this analysis. Seems to me the lack of transparency was more of an issue than the moderator, who evidently is the fall guy now. When it comes to the firehouse location, 139 Great Road is a historical building within the historical district. If the town is going to strong arm the HDC into demo’ing that building, they might as well abolish the HDC and deny any historical relevance of the town….but maybe that’s the point. What’s even worse is the fact that it’s not even an ideal spot. Bedford Motel was not even broached by the town and all I kept hearing was “response time”. What standard is this “response time” and “center of town” dictated on? If we really had issue with response time, why are we not talking about the elephant in the room that is East Bedford (takes 8 min) to get out there. There are 3 big apartment complexes, 2 preschools, a growing commercial community and a multitude of accidents between Rt 3, Rt 3/62 cloverleaf and Burlington Road. These all present potential medical emergencies taking resources to the other end of town. “Response Time” cannot be applicable when talking about the difference between 139 Great and Bedford Motel and then be completely thrown out the window when discussing the whole East Bedford district. To the community as a Bedford Firefighter of nearly 15 years, the outpouring of support was much appreciated prior to this vote and I’m sorry that the narrative was “you have to vote YES if you truly support your first responders”. That couldn’t have been further from the truth as this community has always shown the BFD love and support and we are truly blessed to serve this community.
the Moderator did a great job…
Disagree with these criticisms. Mr. Siegenthaler did a solid job.
I can’t speak to the rest of it, but Mr. Moonan got nearly 9 minutes for articles 8 and 9. You can check on the video on Bedford TV – he started talking at the front at 1:44:20 and finished speaking just after 1:53:10. Even factoring in interruptions, he received significant extra time.