Everything you always wanted to know about Town Meeting
Well, we’ve finished with the formalities of Town Meeting, the two nights of sometimes intensive, sometimes mundane debate (didn’t someone predict one night?), and many memorable moments. Accordingly, I’d like to bestow some awards for some of the finer moments of our local democracy bee, and a couple more for moments that are best forgotten.
Here are my coveted Town Meeting Trophies (TMTs) for the Fall 2007 Classic:
Best Effort To Participate: This goes to the lovely nonagenarian poet Mildred Allen, who made the trip from Atria Woodbriar for an article that never got off the ground. Kudos to her for her efforts. Let’s hope we care enough in our 90’s to participate!
Best Athletic Performance: The esteemed TMT judges at Lawrence and sitting at home watching on FCTV didn’t need to deliberate on this one. Although Selectman Mustafa garnered some interest for walking up and down the stairs to talk (there’s a mike on the table, Ahmed), the nod on this one goes to the nimble Zachary Baransky for putting a couple of miles on his Nikes while passing the microphone around solo on the first night. I can remember years when we had two mike handlers and had to wake them up for each article. Nice work, Zach!
Best One-Liner: We saw a couple of knee-slappers here, including Harold Crocker’s “I’m retired…I work hard for a living” and Selectman Kevin Murphy’s “I watched the selectmen’s meetings on TV because there’s nothing else on Monday nights,” but this TMT goes to Town Counsel Frank Duffy, who brought the house down with his blunt honesty. When asked about an article dealing with signage at shopping malls, he gave a detailed answer on the allowable parking spaces. When asked as a follow-up the difference between a shopping center and a shopping mall, our local barrister responded, “I don’t’ know that one,” to giggles and applause. Only 34 shopping days ‘till Christmas, Frank.
Worst November Surprise: Although this was a close one, as the last minute revelation of required five-year terms for an expanded zoning board in Article 8 clearly showed that someone didn’t do their homework, the lack of visual support and detail for the town’s debt service article was a bad scene and takes this regrettable award. Although it is true that the numbers change regularly, Town Meeting Members should never be in a position to vote on an article with no supporting info, especially one when thousands of tax dollars are being spent.
The sponsor of the article was the Finance Committee, so the responsibility falls directly on them and on the chairman as that’s where the buck stops. Jill Bishop and Lynn Grant Major made a huge save and deserve a nod for efficiency and quick thinking with tabling the article until they could put a quick presentation together.
Worst Display of Leadership: Local government is not an easy business, and sometimes things get tough, but two things remain paramount: we are all part of the solution, not the problem, and when the public relies on its elected officials for guidance, they must be accountable.
This TMT almost went to Moderator Dave Vieira, who is a public servant who typically displays poise and tact. He slipped when he called it “My Town Meeting” in a bit of a tantrum.
In the end, though, the non-vote on Article 4 by Selectwomen Flynn and Bumpus was a real head-scratcher and takes this undesirable award. When queried why they chose not to vote at all on this important zoning article, they provided the same non-response. This was an uncharacteristic and unfortunate lapse in leadership for two smart and dedicated folks.
Badge of Bombast: This Special TMT, for the person who elicits groans just by standing, was the closest of all.
Rich Latimer, who pulled out to an early lead with his lengthy explanations of zoning articles (do you think the people from Atria wished for a different spokesman?), was then challenged heartily by the ever-present Dan Shearer, who retired Chief Cusolito prematurely and at one point asked if he could yell while waiting for the microphone. Dan’s sincerity, though, is both heartwarming and entertaining.
When Mr. Latimer descended into a harangue on the federal No Child Left Behind Act when he was supposed to be discussing the war in Iraq, the Badge of Bombast became his alone.
Here are just a few examples of highlights, smiles and eye-rollers from the best example of pure democracy this side of Blue Hills. Feel free to share some of your own. Next April, maybe you can even help me with my predictions…