Board Members Mull Survey on Town Meeting Access

December 8, 2022

Are residents deterred from participating in Town Meeting? Are there changes that could encourage more attendance?

The Select Board is considering a survey exploring that topic – if the price is right.

Board Chair Emily Mitchell raised the idea near the close of Monday’s board meeting. She acknowledged that there have been concerns from residents about overall Town Meeting access. 

“What kinds of things can we do to respond to some of the concerns we have heard?” Mitchell asked as she introduced the survey idea.  “If this is something that fits our goals, it could be really helpful to the future.”

“A lot of people have been saying Town Meeting is not accessible to everybody,” board member Shawn Hanegan observed. “If we do a survey, we can get a consensus on what people are thinking and make data-driven suggestions.”

Board member Margot Fleischman added, “I would want to reach out to other open Town Meeting communities, even to find out what kind of questions to ask.” She said that some suggestions she has heard “are not statutorily available to us.”

On Monday, the Select Board discussed the idea of a survey regarding Town Meeting access. Image from BedfordTV Youtube

Members agreed that with prospects for budget increase looming, the cost of a survey would have to be affordable.

Ironically, the concerns have been raised following the Town Meeting with the highest attendance ever. More than 1,100 voters checked into the Special Town Meeting on Nov. 14.

Hanegan said, “I would be interested in what people think about representative Town Meeting.”

“A lot of our neighboring towns have representative Town Meeting and those issues are different,” Fleischman noted. 

Their colleague Ed Pierce said he is committed to the open Town Meeting system.

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Rich Madison
December 11, 2022 10:26 am

I bet the town could do a survey on the cheap by soliciting comments on a forum hosted by some civic-minded, Bedford-oriented news website. If only we had one that posted articles and then hosted comments. Oh wait ….

December 9, 2022 10:03 pm

If we do this survey, can we design it so all (or as many demographics as possible) both know about it & can easily complete/return the survey? If, for instance, it’s only marketed & accessible online, it may not reach as many seniors or others who are not on the internet as much, if at all.

Patty Dahlgren
December 9, 2022 12:34 pm

Thank you Emily. I do wish this would lead to a discussion of a hybrid virtual Town Meeting, or the ability to vote in advance.

Matthew Agen
December 9, 2022 7:55 am

The survey should include options that *aren’t* currently available like early voting. MA general law can be changed with enough support. In theory, all citizens have a say with open town meeting, but in practice it is very exclusionary. Record attendance was still only ~11% of registered voters.

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