Town Meeting Manual

17May18

Annual Town Meeting is over but November’s Regular Town Meeting will be here before you know it. Since there are always new people moving into Wakefield and new people reaching voting age, a few observations and helpful tips may be in order. You’ll of course want to bookmark this column for future reference.

First, a bit of history. Like “Board of Selectmen,” Town Meeting dates back to colonial times and is uniquely and deeply rooted in New England history. So obviously, we have to get rid of it.

In the meantime, to fully participate in Town Meeting, you need to be registered to vote. This used to be an onerous task that involved leaving your house. Now you can register to vote online or by mail. We even automatically pre-register high school students age 16 and older. The idea is to get them to vote as many times as possible before they get jobs and start paying taxes.

Town Meeting is held at the Galvin Middle School, which is also where you’ll be voting for the rest of your natural life, so you might as well program it into your GPS now.

When you arrive for Town meeting, you’ll need to check in at one of seven tables set up in the hallway, one for each precinct. It will speed things along if you know which precinct you’re in. If you don’t know your precinct, no problem. The checkers can help you with that, assuming you know where you live.

Town Meeting is sometimes called the town’s legislative body, except you can’t give yourself a 25 percent pay raise or collect a six-figure pension when you retire.

But there are perks. You get your choice of parking spaces (unless there happens to be a soccer game on the same night). You also get a free copy of the warrant and a complimentary Annual Appropriations booklet.

There are 18,390 registered voters in town and 600 seats in the auditorium, so there’s more than ample seating. Unless, of course, some special interest group has packed the meeting. You may want to check ahead of time to see if there’s an override for a new school or a plastic bag ban on the warrant. If so, arrive early to ensure getting a seat.

Speaking of the warrant, a few words about terminology may be in order.

The list of articles to be considered at Town Meeting is called the “warrant.” Recently, it has been brought to our attention that this term may be a trigger for justice-involved individuals (formerly known as “criminals”). Accordingly, we are in the process of discontinuing the term “warrant” in favor of something less threatening. Under consideration are: “Wish List,” “Menu” and “Things You May Want to Ponder.”

There are two other terms that you’ll hear frequently at Town Meeting: “Town Council” and “Town Counsel.” To understand what is going on at Town Meeting, it is crucial that you understand the difference between these two terms, although no amount of understanding will help when you hear them spoken, as they are indistinguishable homonyms.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that “Town Counsel” is the older of the two terms, being the traditional title for the town’s attorney.

Town Council has been around for a shorter amount of time – 23 days to be exact. This is the executive board of the Town, formerly called the Board of Selectmen. The name had to be changed because, in a world where girls can be boys and boys can be girls, women being called selectmen is a bridge too far.

There are two forms or Town Meeting: Open Town Meeting and Representative Town Meeting. Wakefield has Open Town Meeting.

The principal advantage of Open Town Meeting is that anyone can speak. The principal disadvantage of Open Town Meeting is that anyone can speak.

One common misconception about Town Meeting is that it is a pep rally. Where this erroneous belief originated remains unclear. One theory is that it involves confused soccer fans wandering into the auditorium from the fields outside the school, but this is unconfirmed.

Town Meeting is presided over by the Town Moderator. The Moderator officiates the meeting by reading each article on the warrant, explaining it and making sure the rules of parliamentary procedure are followed, such as no clapping and no standing in the aisles (see “pep rally,” above).

Town Meeting continues until all articles on the warrant are dealt with or until the first town official nods off, whichever comes first. Town meeting can last several hours or even span several nights, but you’re not required to be there for every minute of the proceedings. In fact, it’s not recommended unless your insurance plan includes mental health coverage.

Well, that’s Town Meeting in a nutshell. I hope I haven’t oversold it.

[This column originally appeared in the May 17, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]



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