Williamstown Officials Consider Changes to Town Meeting / iBerkshires.com
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Residents tasked with looking for ways to make town meetings more inclusive and productive this month gave an indication of the kinds of changes on their radar.
Board member Randy Fippinger and city moderator Elisabeth Goodman attended the October planning board meeting to update the body and get feedback on potential changes the city could want to implement.
The conversation around what some perceive as inefficiencies in the current town meeting format is of particular concern to planners, who in June saw most of their substantive zoning bylaw recommendations sent back to committee without a vote up or down.
At the time, some residents complained that the late hour of the Tuesday evening meeting and lack of information about proposed bylaw changes were reasons the meeting chose not to take action on the items. .
Fippinger checked off a number of possible changes, some aimed at making the town meeting more welcoming to a wider range of residents, including a multilingual town meeting mandate, the provision of childcare services to attendees and, possibly be, moving the meeting to a Saturday.
Fippinger, Goodman and Select Board member Jane Patton make up a task force set up by the Select Board to review the town meeting after the June session ended unsatisfactorily.
Other innovations on their radar include: mailing materials to residents explaining town meeting items, similar to the Secretary of State’s annual mailing on questions from the public on the November ballot; limitation of the session to two hours with a certain date for its resumption if necessary; restructure the mandate so that items that potentially require more discussion, such as zoning regulations, are dealt with earlier; information sessions preceding the municipal assembly; several municipal meetings focusing on different topics; and the use of electronic clickers to register votes, which would speed up the voting process and allow residents to weigh in anonymously.
The latest caught the attention of Planning Board Chair Stephanie Boyd.
“One thing I’m torn about is the clicker thing,” she said. “For me, it comes down to the sense of community. As people, we should make it comfortable for people to have different points of view.
“I love the visual of people standing with their cards. It’s such a wonderful part of the New England character. We also have to be aware that there are casualties.”
Goodman said she has attended town meetings in other communities where secret ballots are more common.
“To me, it’s the discussion that counts, not the actual vote, and people shouldn’t be pressured by their peers to vote,” Goodman said.
“Do you think they are now?” Boyd replied
“Oh, yeah, I know that,” Goodman said.
Fippinger said the task force is considering creating a survey of residents to see what changes, if any, might be warranted.
Planning Council member Peter Beck suggested the city try to create a non-binding question on the ballot for the May municipal election to ask about some of the bigger issues, like bringing in selectors. electronic mail to record votes anonymously.
Key words: city meeting,