September 16 2015

New Enforcement of Old Rule Tells Town Meeting Members to Be Present or Be Noticed

By: Rich Hosford

Town Meeting members who miss meetings have been put on notice – absences will be made public in the press. 


A letter sent out to members from Town Moderator Sally Willard states that an existing bylaw that had been suspended that requires the town clerk to send the attendance of Town Meeting members to two local newspapers will be placed back in effect. 


According to the letter the bylaw was voted on by Town Meeting in May of 2002. In 2010 a former town clerk suspended the practice in 2010 but that recently the town’s Rules Committee voted to have it resume. The attendance records of the last five years have been posted on the town’s website. 


Paul Girouard, chair of the Rules Committee, said the practice of publishing a list of which Town Meeting members were, and were not, at the meeting is a part of a transparent government and a way to pressure elected officials to do the job they ran for. Town Clerk Amy Warfield said that in the past few years attendance among members has averaged 80 percent, with some precincts faring worse in that regard than others. According to the records on the website, a handful of members have made far less than half the meetings in the last couple of years. 


“This will hopefully motivate higher attendance and make sure people take Town Meeting seriously,” Girouard said in an interview. 

Of course, there is a chance Town Meeting members who miss a meeting will bristle at having that fact printed in a local newspaper. Girouard said that point was discussed but members of the Rules Committee were not convinced it was a reason not to move forward with resuming the practice. 


“That’s not a valid concern,” he said. “The state legislatures’ records are in the paper each week and if people see they are not voting then constituents should call and find out why not. If people see that their Town Meeting representatives are not showing up maybe they’ll call them too. This is a responsibility.” 


Girouard said if an absent member has a good reason for missing the meeting, such as being away or a family emergency, residents in their precincts will understand. 


A good reason for missing a meeting won’t keep anyone’s name out of the papers, however. Warfield said the list will be printed based on who signs in and who and who doesn’t. 


“We can’t make exceptions,” she said.  “There are no excused absences; if you’re not there you’ll be getting in the paper.”


If it turns out Town Meeting members don’t like this practice, there is only one way around it, Willard explained. That would be to vote to change the bylaw. 


Though we are not one of the newspapers listed in the bylaw, BNEWS will publish the attendance list on our website following Town Meeting. 

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