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LETTER: Town Meeting Member Says "We Failed" Our Misson

Calder: "The members of Town Meeting may not agree with the speaker ... To censor him, to chase him from the floor with protocol is counter to our principles and our purpose."

I believe that Town Meeting owes an apology to the citizens of Framingham for its actions last night.

During the meeting, a resident tried to speak, or more accurately tried to make a speech, on an issue. That speech was repeatedly interrupted from the floor and the head of Town Meeting. The premise for this inhospitable treatment was that the speech was not apropos of the article on the floor. It does not take a literary genius to infer from the few complete sentences the speaker was permitted to say that his point was something along the lines of: "while the average incomes for Framingham residents are falling, we are voting raises for Town employees". Most certainly on point.

The members of Town Meeting may not agree with the speaker, but Town
Meeting is founded on the idea that the best way to prove someone wrong is to let them make their case. To censor him, to chase him from the floor with protocol is counter to our principles and our purpose.

Town Meeting is an interface, it is a conduit for the many citizens to make their thoughts known to the few that govern on their behalf. It is definitely not our place to question the minutiae of complex labor agreements. Our purpose is to monitor the outcome, share it with residents, and deliver their judgements back. In that mission last night, we failed.

All too often I see Town officials take an aloof and paternalistic stance towards Town Meeting, as if our inquiries are a nuisance, an interruption in their efforts to accomplish their real work. This attitude is an incivility. It runs counter to our democratic purpose. Last night we displayed that same attitude to those we serve, and that is a shame.

Matt Calder
Town Meeting member, Precinct 2

Kathy Vassar October 18, 2012 at 01:03 PM
The speaker, even though a former TMM, might not have been aware of the guidelines of speaking at TM for those who are not currently members. Residents are required to give their name and address when called upon to speak. The Moderator allowed him to come to the front of the room due to the "poor lighting", not normally allowed - the apace in the front is normally reserved for TMMs only. The Moderator then gave him at least three chances to speak to the article that was currently before Town Meeting which he proceeded to ignore. It disrupted the flow of TM and was unfair to those who spend time away from family to be there night after night. The Moderator, in my view, showed a great deal of patience with the speaker. It is required for all speakers, including Town Meeting Members, to speak to the article and not branch off into other topics, regardless of how important they might be. Can you imagine the numbers that might show up to discuss their views on various topics at the expense of dealing with the business of Town Meeting and the resulting disruptions? Volunteers contribute their time and we are paying employees for their time so dragging the meetings out even longer than necessary is not only unfair to those who show up every night but would increase costs for running TM. Kathy Vassar TMM Pct 1
John Sullivan October 18, 2012 at 01:42 PM
I saw it on TV and had a completely different take. Town Meeting is not the time or place for everyone to get up and make a political speech. It is long enough as it is. Those town meeting members (yourself included) are generous with their time and service to the town, it is unfair to allow rambling speeches. That non-town meeting member gets up at every town meeting to make his pitch. It is long, rambling, and not germane to the article on hand. I thought the moderator was generous in giving him ample opportunities to get to the point about how it pertained to the article, and he couldn't. I also thought she was generous in allowing him to move to and speak in the area reserved only for Town Meeting members, due to his saying the lighting was poor in the back of the room. Personally, I think it was just a ploy to be in a section where he could appear on TV, as the lighting isn't any better in front than in the back. Bravo to the moderator for trying to move the proceedings along. If the speaker wanted to make a point, he could write an op-ed and send it to MWDN or the Patch. He could also contact town meeting members individually prior to the meeting. He doesn't need to hold the entire town meeting hostage for his personal agenda.
Karl Rookey October 18, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Matt, An excellent letter, and an excellent point. I would hope that citizens be allowed to speak on motions when they are under consideration. One point: I think the role of a representative is to listen to constituents and then make an informed decision. It should never be simply to do what the majority of voters say they want. Otherwise, we could (and should) govern by polling station and dispense with debate and deliberation.
John Sullivan October 18, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Karl - Citizens ARE allowed to speak. This citizen was also given an opportunity to speak. He was only asked to sit down after he couldn't bring his topic to the article at hand despite repeated requests to do so.
Dan Fredonia October 18, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I'm curious..I didn't get to see the meeting....without naming any names, was the speaker one of the two that were recently booted by Patch? (which is a triumph, IMO)
Susan Petroni (Editor) October 18, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Dan: No, it was a former Town Meeting member, who has lived in town for 40 years. The two you were suggesting are actual Town Meeting members, elected by their precinct.
Dan Fredonia October 18, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Thanks for the info, Susan!

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