A 10 p.m. deadline for new Town Meeting articles? Longer – or shorter – presentations and comments? How about a 6:30 p.m. start time?
These are some of the possibilities members of the Select Board tossed around during a conversation at their Jan. 9 meeting on some annual Town Meeting practices that may merit a second look.
The issues are expected to be included in an upcoming survey of citizens on ways to improve town meeting accessibility.
Select Board member Shawn Hanegan opened the discussion at the board meeting, noting that current rules – presented as an article at the opening of each Annual Town Meeting – include a deadline of 10:45 p.m. for introducing a new article. That usually ensures adjournment by 11 p.m., he said.
Hanegan related that at the Nov. 14 Special Town Meeting, “a lot of people couldn’t stay. People were walking out after 10 o’clock.”
He suggested a 10:15 p.m. new-article deadline, with adjournment likely by 10:30 p.m. That would “set the tone, the expectation that we are looking at finishing about 10:30 p.m., which just seems more comfortable than 11 o’clock.” Hanegan noted that 10:45 p.m. was established when Town Meeting sessions began at 7:30 p.m. – a half-hour later than currently.
Board member Edward Pierce added a new wrinkle: a 6:30 p.m. start. That could make it more likely to complete the warrant in a single session, he added. “It’s a compromise, one way or the other,” Hanegan said.
Also on the table were the customary five-minute presentation limit and the three-minute comment window. Town Manager Sarah Stanton said her office has received feedback that at the Nov. 14 meeting, “as the evening went later on, it felt like things were stretched to meet the time limit.”
Board member Margot Fleischman said, “The five minutes on a complicated presentation is too short. This is your opportunity to make the case to the voters.”
Board Chair Emily Mitchell replied, “Some articles need more explanation, some don’t, and we try to fit one time limit to cover all.”
“Everything is a tradeoff,” Fleischman observed. “Some people can’t come two nights in a row. We are going to have to strike a balance. There’s a lot of past practice that has held up well through the years.”
The Town Meeting time limits can be waived for individual articles if voters agree. Indeed, traditionally if the end of the warrant is approaching, voters may opt to introduce new articles after 10:45 p.m. to avoid returning on a subsequent evening.
Mitchell said she expects the discussion will continue as Annual Town Meeting approaches.