Night #5 of Natick Fall Annual Town Meeting picked up with discussion of amendments under Article 25, which contained nearly an alphabet’s worth of proposed changes to the town’s charter (aka, constitution), and it ended that way as well.
Initial discussion, after Town Meeting members tested their electronic voting devices on a question about whether Taylor Swift would be appearing at an upcoming football game, focused on a charter change designed to address the issue of low attendance at Town Meeting.
A proposed amendment to amendment C under the article would require at least 2 Town Meeting members be present to reach a quorum—an effort to help the town’s legislative body gets its job done but with assurance that all precincts are represented. Natick has struggled to get even close to a full complement of Precinct 1 members elected, which in turn has led to underrepresentation in town Meeting. Member Grace Keeney said she had started on “Team Efficiency,” but was swayed by discussion in the previous meeting about representation to put forth this amendment.
While some members applauded the creativity of the approach, the amendment got voted down in a landslide, with some of those against it arguing that such a change could actually lead to voting manipulation. If a precinct’s members were in the overall minority in being against or for an issue, they could stall the meeting by being absent as a group.
Member Paul Griesmer said “The way to solve the underrepresentation problem in Precinct 1… is to actually promote civic involvement, not to adopt a rule that could hamstring the meeting or could transfer almost unique veto power to a very small representation from a particular precinct.”
Amendment D concentrated on the process for submitting articles to be included on the Town Warrant, essentially the agenda for Town Meeting. The amendment in part sought to achieve efficiency by having appointing bodies, rather than groups they appoint, be responsible for submitting articles. A motion was proposed to nix amendment D, but it failed to gain approval.
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Amendment E, as the Charter & By-Law Review Committee’s Christine Weithman put it, “is where we support our town employees.” The idea was to not force department heads to show up at Town Meeting night after night…after night….after night…after night…after night if the topics being discussed most likely won’t be in their areas of expertise (and giving the moderator leeway to get any information needed during a session, such as through remote access). Such required attendance can be considered “aversive” by those being recruited for town jobs, Weithman said.
Town Administrator Jamie Errickson added that requiring department heads to attend every meeting can affect their daily work performance. They can be more effective, he said, if “discretion” is used for when they really need to show up at Town Meeting. The town administrator would be the 1 member of the administration required to attend all sessions (“Can I motion amendment to that?” Errickson joked.)
Amendment F involved consideration of eliminating preliminary elections, though the Charter & By-Law Review Committee decided against that. It did, however, leave things open to adopt ranked-choice voting, which if approved would eliminate the need for preliminary elections.
With Amendment G, the effort was to clarify separation between the executive branch (Select Board, town administrator) and legislative branch (Town Meeting) but not allowing the Select Board to force members of the legislative body, including he moderator, to appear before it. There was some concern this might be a solution looking for a problem given the general cooperation within Natick’s town government, but Moderator Frank Foss, when asked for examples by a Town Meeting member, was able to share a couple.
Amendment H simply clarified that Parks & Recreation commissioners advise not just the town administrator, but the Select Board, too.
Next up, amendment I, allowed for appointment by the moderator of a deputy to run Town Meeting if the moderator becomes unavailable. Consideration by the Charter & By-Law Review Committee was given to recommending this be an elected position, but it went with appointment to ensure the deputy would be someone who could work well with the moderator. Current Moderator Foss, to laughter, pointed out that “Moderator is not the most sought-out job in town,” and that it is important for the moderator to mentor a sidekick.
A motion was raised to scrap the amendment due to concerns over possible conflicts of interest in having a moderator appoint a deputy and because there are provisions for a backup, but it failed to pass. The moderator, in addition to presiding over Town Meeting, appoints members to the Finance Committee, and other committees as needed.
Amendment J was designed to make the town’s charter consistent with state law regarding the policymaking powers of the Select Board, which are currently limited to making only “broad policy,” Charter & By-Law Review Committee’s Weithman said in introducing the amendment.
It was pointed out during discussion of this motion some 2 hours-plus into the meeting that a quorum no longer appeared to exist. Indeed, a headcount proved that to be true. On to Nov. 7 for night #6, with the rest of Article 25 (up to amendment U), plus Articles 26 and 33 still on the docket.