Letter to the Editor: In Support of Less Efficiency at Town Meeting 

April 3, 2023

Submitted by Ginni Spencer

I’d like to say a few words in support of less efficiency at Town Meeting. 

I’m all in on preparing yourself for Town Meeting by reading The Citizen, attending meetings, checking the town website, etc. But even if you can do all these things, you may still have questions of clarification or want more detail. Yes, there were numerous holds on budget articles and perhaps some hair-splitting going on around specific words. But I found that all questions and comments were fair and respectfully put forward. In my own experience of Town Meeting, I have changed my mind more than once about how I was going to vote on an article because I was swayed by questions and discussion raised from the floor. 

The amendments put forward on early articles did not align with my own point of view, but so what? Once the Moderator made his rulings, they were accepted without rancor or inappropriate comments as far as I observed. We moved on.

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But to the larger point: should efficiency to be our only criteria for what makes an effective Town Meeting? I believe Town Meeting should, in fact, have some of the features of the town square. It is the most meaningful way we have to come together as an entire town and discuss and decide what we want now and in the future. The give and take, debates over procedure, even the tedious quest for details are a big part of what Town Meeting is all about.

Kudos to officials who try hard to make the process leading up to Town Meeting transparent and streamlined – and hey, keep it coming. But our aspirations for Bedford have to be bigger than how can we get Town Meeting over with in one night and preferably by 10 p.m.

(Editor’s note: Ginni Spencer is a former President, Co-President and current Board member of The Bedford Citizen. Spencer was also one of the tellers at the recent Annual Town Meeting. Ginni is expressing her own points of view in this letter.)

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Patty Carluccio
July 2, 2023 11:42 am

I share many of your sentiments. This weekend we are watching the John Adams miniseries in celebration of July 4. The hours/days/weeks long debates of our forefathers gave us a pathway to our independence. It was messy. It was arduous. But those different points of views were important.
We have a series of checks and balances in Bedford that has served our community well for a long time. To me this is an amazing part of living in New England. We can participate as individuals. I am not in favor of getting rid of this amazing, long-standing tradition in this very historical New England town.

Nancy Wolk
April 6, 2023 4:17 pm

I appreciate your point. I do need to clarify that I never said we shouldn’t debate things. I don’t understand why we allow people to ask questions that could have been asked ahead of time. At least half of the questions asked during the budget period could have been answered outside of the TM. Some were tangentially related to the board budget at hand.

Of course we should be discussing some articles in greater detail than others. We run a real risk of disenfranchising people who want to participate, but can’t stay as late as some residents force the meeting. This is no longer the 1700s where men could stay as long as they wanted and women’s votes were not counted. We have people working all hours and the state prevents remote participation. Let’s not have people leave early because this entire meeting is held hostage by a few residents.

I always get concerned when questions asked at Town Meeting are not ones that further meaningful discussion on an article, but are more about grandstanding and clarification that was available before the TM if people had only looked or asked.

April 4, 2023 9:21 am

I respect and appreciate Ms. Spencer’s dedication to TM. However, I find it deeply concerning that “efficiency” at TM has become a polarizing issue. Meetings that go on for 5+ hours with the potential of stretching over two nights are a huge deterrent to participation for many Bedford residents.

The exercise of democracy requires participation. Lower participation rates necessarily mean less democracy: only 2% of eligible voters turned out for the March meeting; even with very contentious articles at November TM that drew near-record attendance, only about 10% of eligible voters participated. Our collective goal should be higher participation if we actually value the exercise of democracy.

Efficiency shouldn’t be the only measure of a successful TM, but it should be a factor, as should attendance. To me, a successful TM is one where insightful questions lead to answers that genuinely help voters decide for or against the proposed appropriations. I don’t think anyone can seriously claim that every question asked on March 27 met that mark.

Dawn LaFrance-Linden
April 4, 2023 7:09 am

People are literally disenfranchised (losing their ability to exercise their vote) when they can’t complete the marathon excessive questioning from the floor (not minor clarifications, corrections, or points of order, but primarily grandstanding IMO) make of ATM. People must leave for health reasons, for work reasons, to relieve the babysitter – whatever. The more organized and efficient we are the more people can and will attend and vote. Who knows how many left last ATM vowing that was the last time they allowed their fellow citizens to disrespect their time?

Hillary DeMello
April 4, 2023 11:56 am

I agree with you Dawn.

Robin Steele
April 3, 2023 8:39 pm

Thank you so much for this. I agree 100 percent.

April 3, 2023 11:57 pm
Reply to  Robin Steele

Absolutely! I also agree fully with Ms. Spencer and want to thank her for writing a needed statement reminding us about a basic element in governance. We live in one of the few places in the world with direct democracy. This freedom for our community to engage with itself is a gift we should not take for granted, curtail or give away.
In a similar vein, a town government that welcomes volunteers to participate fully in the process is by default transparent to some degree. It also benefits from a greater degree of independent thinking in discussions. These contribute to a vibrant, inclusive government and community. We need to be wary of efforts to tamper with this system, even if made with the best intentions.
And we need more people like Ginni Spencer!

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