Over my time in office I have written several times about the purpose and mechanics of the Town Meeting. In Easton, Town Meetings are the legislative body of the town. The Board of Selectmen is effectively the executive branch. Town Meetings are meant to be the ultimate form of democracy where every eligible voter in town can express their support, or lack thereof, on questions before the town. Each of you must form your own opinion as to whether or not the meetings you witness are expanding or limiting our democracy. I have taken the position that important questions should at least go to referendum/ machine vote to be as inclusive as possible.
Items like budgets and ordinance changes are routinely brought to Town Meetings, but other matters of policy, which the town must vote on or for which the selectmen deem it is important for the town to weigh in on, are also brought to the Town Meeting. Generally, the selectmen formulate questions in a voteable format and set the agenda. That gives an opportunity for well thought out statements upon which to vote as all votes must be yes or no. Vetting by the town’s attorneys may also occur.
The citizens of the town may also petition for a Town Meeting. If there is an issue on which people feel the legislative body needs to vote, it can be brought by petition to hold the Town Meeting and vote on the question. We recently saw the difficulties with that method as the question formulated by the petition to place a conservation easement at South Park was unclear and had to be reworked at the subsequent Town Meeting before it could be voted on. The issue dragged on for months as a result. Many citizens expressed frustration that they did not understand what they were being asked to sign. Still, this is a legal process if there is a legitimate question to decide. If there is not a legitimate question for which the Town Meeting is being requested the petition can be rejected.
I recently received a communication from Citizens for Responsible government, June Logie, treasurer. She expressed concerns with the status of the riding stable on Sport Hill Road and the deeds on the South Park Avenue property, both of which have been discussed at Board of Selectmen meetings. Her email said the following: “If you choose not to discuss these very serious issues in the next Board of Selectmen meeting, the only other option the public will have is to petition for a Town Meeting and discuss and take action on this at that legally petitioned Town Meeting.” (A PDF of the email can be accessed here.)
Hopefully, I have made clear above why petitioning for a Town Meeting to get information on a topic is not a legitimate reason to hold such a meeting. The Town Meeting is not a place to “raise concerns.” It is a place to legislate.
As you know, the selectmen and my office have provided open forums and made greatly expanded portions of our selectmen meetings available for public comment. In a bipartisan and unanimous fashion, we have brought ordinance changes and other questions which were recommended by residents to a Town Meeting as needed. I hope that the members of the “public” described in this email will take advantage of those opportunities as they have in the past.
I also focus on keeping the people of Easton informed as to what is going on in town, which I see is central to my role as First Selectman. Access to town officials and documents are made available on request. We post numerous documents on line. In Town Hall a lot of time has been spent responding to a small number of citizens. Again, each of you can decide to what extent you feel that this is an efficient use of time on the part of your public officials. Our goal is to continue to be transparent. Keep in mind, however, that Town Meetings require time and resources and should not be taken lightly.