A Special Town Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 at Concord- Carlisle High School. Here are a few things for both newcomers and veterans to know.
Concord’s form of local legislature is an “open town meeting,” the purest form of direct democracy existing in our nation. Every registered voter may participate in deliberation and voting on the matters before the Meeting. Town Meeting is responsible for appropriating funds to meet the operational and capital needs of the town and the schools, enacting general bylaws, enacting zoning bylaws, adopting state statutes available to towns, and petitioning the state legislature for “home rule” legislation permitting the town to adopt bylaws that are not otherwise within its authority under state law. The agenda for an Annual or Special Town Meeting is set by the Select Board and published in a “Warrant” which is posted on the town’s website and delivered to every household.
The Warrant for the upcoming Special Town Meeting on Jan. 19 includes five articles addressing:
(1) confirmation of authorization for the town to participate In the state’s Fossil Fuel-Free Demonstration Project;
(2) reauthorization of a home rule petition for a real estate transfer tax to support affordable housing;
(3) reauthorization of a home rule petition for a building permit surcharge to support affordable housing;
(4) return to the Community Preservation Act reserve fund for affordable housing the appropriations made previously for the now canceled Junction Village project; and
(5) an additional appropriation of funds for construction of a new Concord Middle School.
You can learn more about articles on the Warrant by reviewing the materials on them and watching recordings of the hearings on them held before the Finance Committee and the Select Board, both found under the Town Meeting tab at www.concordma.gov. In addition, you’ll want to read the recommendations and commentary on the articles printed in the Finance Committee Report which arrived in your mailbox.
When voters arrive at the meeting venue (CCHS), they check-in with Town Clerk staff, receive a brightly colored paper voting slip, collect reading materials being distributed, and find a seat in the Gymnasium or Auditorium.
The Moderator presides over all aspects of the meeting and declares votes. Concord uses Town Meeting Time, available at the Concord Free Public Library, as its procedural guide for town meeting. Town Meeting Traditions and Procedures, distributed at the meeting and available on the town website, is a nutshell guide for voters on how to participate in the meeting. We’ll also have a Town Meeting Resource Person available for questions during the meeting.
To preserve the meeting’s time for matters requiring in-depth deliberation, the Moderator may place certain articles, which are routine or repetitive, non-controversial at hearing, and supported by the Select Board and (if it’s a financial article) the Finance Committee, on a Consent Calendar for expedited vote by the meeting without deliberation. There is opportunity for any ten voters to remove an article from the Consent Calendar for full deliberation if they wish. The Consent Calendar for our January 19th Special Town Meeting includes two articles. It is printed in the Finance Committee Report and posted on the town website.
Concord makes a variety of arrangements to support the ability of all voters to participate in town meeting. These include providing child care ($10/ child; $20 max/family), offering buses from satellite parking at the Alcott School, expanding available accessible parking at CCHS, providing assisted listening devices and closed captioning, reserving accessible seating, and designating the auditorium as an area where masks must be worn unless speaking at a microphone. For those who cannot participate but wish to be informed, the meeting is broadcast live on local cable access channel 9 and on-line through a link on the town website, and on the CCHS radio station WIQH.
Democracy, especially direct democracy, depends upon the informed participation of voters. I hope you’ll come to Special Town Meeting on Thursday Jan. 19, and to Annual Town Meeting which begins on Sunday, April 30.
Q&A With the Moderator
What can happen on the floor of Town Meeting?
The short answer is a lot and a full answer will be found in the Town Meeting Traditions and Procedures booklet posted on the Town website and distributed at Town Meeting.
In a nutshell, once a motion under an article has been made and seconded, and the Meeting has heard the presentation of the article sponsor, we open the floor for deliberation in the form of questions and comments.
Concord registered voters may speak from a microphone once recognized by the Moderator (or the Deputy Moderator) and will have two minutes to speak. We endeavor to get answers to voters’ questions from the appropriate knowledgeable sources. We observe the decorum appropriate to a deliberative legislative body and the mutual respect appropriate to a community of neighbors, refraining from verbal or physical demonstrations.
A motion to amend the main motion may be made by any voter, so long as it is within the scope of the article as printed in the Warrant and seconded by another voter. Determinations on scope are made by the Moderator. A voter making a motion to amend will have five minutes to speak to the motion, the mover of the main motion will have five minutes to respond, and the Meeting will then turn its attention to the amendment. Following deliberation and vote on the amendment, the Meeting returns to consideration of the main motion either as amended or in its original form, depending upon the amendment vote. The Moderator calls for a vote on the main motion when it appears that the Meeting has concluded its deliberation (i.e., no one else is at a microphone).
A vote also may be called by a voter “moving the question” to end deliberation and move to a vote. A motion to move the question is not debatable (i.e., there is no discussion on it) and requires a 2/3 vote to pass. The Moderator determines and declares the vote by a visual counting of raised voting slips, or, if the vote is too close to call visually, by a standing count taken by Tellers.
Can a person move a lower amount than $110 million?
I assume that this question refers to Article 5, seeking to increase the appropriation made at 2022 Special Town Meeting for construction of a new Middle School.
Article 5 seeks an increment in the prior appropriation to bring the total project appropriation to a number “not to exceed” $110 million. A motion to amend could be made to decrease the increment sought under the article (thus reducing the total project appropriation to less than $110 million), but a motion to amend to decrease the appropriation made by 2022 Special Town Meeting would be ruled out of order as not within the scope of Article 5.
What flexibility does the town have to change Article 5?
An “Article” is the notice given to voters in the Warrant of the subject that Annual or Special Town Meeting will be asked to act upon. An Article may not be changed once the Warrant is “posted” (posted physically at the Townhouse and electronically on the town website and mailed to households). The Meeting takes action by means of deliberation and vote upon motions made and seconded under the articles in the Warrant. A motion must be within the scope of the relevant article. This requirement does allow a bit of wiggle room between the substance of a motion and that of an article, but not so much that a voter would not have understood from reading the article as printed in the Warrant what action the Meeting would be asked to take under it. The Moderator determines whether a motion is within the scope of an article.
Do votes to change the Article need a simple majority or two thirds?
Again, no change ever is made to an Article, but a motion may be made to amend a main motion under an Article. A motion to amend requires a majority vote to pass, even if the main motion requires a vote of two thirds to pass. A main motion under Article 5 will require a two thirds vote for passage because it involves a borrowing, but an amendment to the main motion would require only a majority vote.