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Civics Sunday - Part 1

by The Publishers
February 17, 2019

Our new weekly series, “Civics Sunday,” presents a helpful but brief description of a local board, elected positions, or committee, beginning this week with a look at the Town Meeting.

Although not unique to Holliston, its town government is new to us publishers, recent Connecticut transplants.  Now seems a good time to review Holliston’s government to better prepare us all for the Town Meeting on May 6, 2019, as well as to inform our decisions for the next Local Election on May 21, 2019.

Part I:  The Town Meeting

Massachusetts includes 295 towns and 56 cities. Cities have a city or town council or board of aldermen rather than a town meeting.  Citizens do not govern a city directly.  Most usually, a mayor is the chief executive officer of a city.  A town elects a board of selectmen, and that board may appoint a full or part time professional to manage day-to-day affairs.  Holliston has a select board of three members who appoint a town administrator

The Town Meeting form of government has been in existence for over 300 years.

   In 1622,  Governor William Bradford ran the first town meeting of Plimoth Plantation to divide land among the families.  The town meeting persists throughout the New England region. In Massachusetts, a community’s taxpayers gather and may voice their opinion and effect these major changes through the town meeting:

  • Set salaries of elected officials
  • Appropriate money to run the town
  • Vote on the town’s local statutes (by-laws).

Holliston has two Annual Town Meetings using an open town meeting format.  (In an open format, all of the town’s voters may vote on all matters.)  The spring town meeting is held the first Monday following the first Friday in May (this year on May 6).   The fall town meeting, in Holliston identified as the special town meeting, is held the last Monday in October (this year on October 28).

The “Cast” of the Town Meeting:

  1. The Moderator (an elected position) runs the Town Meeting, stating the outcome of all voice votes. 
  2. The Selectmen (elected positions) are authorized to call a Town Meeting if they have posted a warrant.  The Selectmen run the town and supervise town workers.  In Holliston, the Board of Selectmen selects and supervises a town administrator.  Holliston’s town administrator has various duties and authority.
  3. The Town Clerk (elected position) records all votes and takes minutes of the Town Meeting.  If all of the Selectmen resign, the Town Clerk is authorized to call a Town Meeting.
  4. The Town Counsel is a lawyer who either works for the town as an employee or is a private lawyer.  The Selectmen, in the best interest of the town, appoint this person.  The town counsel often prepares the warrant (the Town Meeting’s agenda).  During the Town Meeting, the town counsel answers legal questions that arise.
  5. The Finance Committee (comprising elected members) prepares the budget and the agenda items (financial articles) in the months before the annual Town Meeting. Its recommendations are advisory. 
  6. The taxpayers, one hundred of whom constitute a quorum, will vote on all articles of the warrant during the town meeting.  A two-thirds majority vote will approve each article.  A taxpayer may speak no more than two times (total of 15 minutes) concerning any question without getting leave of the meeting unless to correct an error or answer a question.

A word of encouragement:  If you are new to this form of government, you, too, may be as impressed as we were with our first town meeting experience.  It is truly “democracy in action,” and is an amazing forum for “thinking global—acting local.” 

Many positions are open in Holliston this spring, and nomination forms (due to the Town Clerk’s office by April 2) are available from the Town Clerk’s office now.  You may be asked to sign a neighbor’s nomination petition in the coming weeks, or you may be running for office.  We hope future Civics Sunday articles will prepare you to ask or answer questions and make informed decisions.    

Next Sunday, Civics Sunday will present Part II:  The Town Moderator and The Town Clerk.

Resources:

http://The First Town Meeting Is Still Going in Six States

http://Citizen's Guide to Town Meetings

http://Town of Holliston By-laws

http://HCAT Just Thinking: Town Government Elections

 

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Comments (1)

Nice job, hope lots of people read it and decide to come to Town Meeting. Looking forward to more articles about Town Government, I think the best form of true democracy. May be "old fashioned" but lets everyone participate, and vote of what they want. Jackie

- Jackie Dellicker | 2/17/19 9:54 AM

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