Letter to the Editor:  Uncontested Elections – Time for a Mayor-Council Approach

Submitted by Jacinda Barbehenn

No need to vote in our local elections this weekend. Sadly, there are NO contested seats on our local ballot. As someone that is on the ballot myself, I respectfully disagree with Representative Gordon’s recent op-ed. Your votes will give us false mandates. As uncontested candidates, we should not be resting easy thinking that we know what you, the voting town residents, need or want.

However, in the interest of a more democratic town government, please do fill out the Town Meeting Survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BedfordTownMeeting). The most important question is #14 – “Would you be in favor of changing Bedford’s form of government?” A “Mayor-Council” would serve Bedford better than our current “Select Board-Open Town Meeting”.

Although it’s been our tradition, Open Town Meeting is not representative or particularly democratic:

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  • On average, only 4% of eligible voters attend.
  • Many residents, for work or family reasons, can’t attend multi-hour meetings on multiple nights.
  • Oftentimes families with child care responsibilities cannot attend, especially if the household has only one adult, which many of ours do. 
  • Attendees are mostly older, whiter and wealthier than our population as a whole.

You can zoom into open comment period at Select Board meetings, but they don’t have to listen, take it in, or respond. 

If privileged enough (with the time and ability) you can get to Town Meeting, stand up and make comments. Most of us can’t go though and our comments rarely change anything regardless. 

So where does that leave us?  With a small percentage of residents, many of whom are already on Town boards and committees, making all the decisions in a vacuum that do not reflect who we really are as a community. 

If we had a mayor-council form of government we would have more competitive elections which would yield a more representative government with more checks, balances and compromising abilities. If we had a mayor and council, they would each have to propose projects, spending priorities, etc. and they’d work it out between the two branches – all in the open.

A mayor-council government would enable you to weigh-in with your elected officials before decisions are made without having your voice silenced because you’re unable to attend Town Meeting.

It’s about choices – a local democracy, like any democracy, needs them.

Jacinda Barbehenn is a member of the Bedford Planning Board running for reelection to the Board in the local election on March 11 as an incumbent. This letter expresses the opinion written as an individual and not on behalf of the Bedford Planning Board. 

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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Allen Marshall
March 20, 2023 12:34 pm

I hate this idea. It will inevitably lead to more concentration of power and more abuse thereof. Many times in the past we have seen multiple attempts to push what have turned out to be unpopular initiatives proposed by special interest groups, which ATM ultimately defeated. The example of Springs Brook Park comes to mind.

Why would we want to make it even easier for a small cabal to by-pass the community’s decision-making role?

Tim Bennett
March 11, 2023 3:13 pm

The turn out at the polls today is likely to be similarly as low as the turnout to town meeting, so I see no reason to declare it more Democratic, especially when you yourself admit that elected representatives may not always have interests aligned with most of the community.

Laura Bergsten
March 9, 2023 7:45 pm

Well said, Jacinda! The notion everyone in town can attend Town Meeting and have a direct say in decision-making is a nice idea, but not reality.

Marc
March 7, 2023 9:23 pm

If we had a mayor-council form of government, we would have a different ballot filled with uncontested seats. And then, instead of a couple hundred people participating at Town Meeting, we would have maybe a dozen. That’s a bad fix.

Criatura
March 8, 2023 5:12 pm
Reply to  Marc

Agreed!

Molly L Haskell
March 8, 2023 5:15 pm
Reply to  Marc

The primary outcome will be that Bedford’s 10,000+ registered voters will be stripped of the direct vote on Bedford’s most important matters, like the Firehouse location, the Bikeway Extension, and large capital projects. Do not allow this critical right to be taken away.

Last edited 1 year ago by Molly L Haskell

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