A MESSAGE FROM THE MODERATOR ABOUT SPECIAL TOWN MEETING
Special Town Meeting held on October 16 was a learning experience for me. You can see the results of the votes taken here, but what I’d like to discuss in this space is the management of the Meeting that night. If you were present, or if you have read anything about it since, you probably know it was a very difficult Meeting. We were not well prepared for the number of people who attended and as a result the Meeting was chaotic. That is unacceptable. As the official most directly in charge of the Meeting I apologize to everyone.
I’d like to explain (not as an excuse but as an explanation only) why we didn’t anticipate the large contingent of voters present on that night. We have been averaging about 400 voters at our Town Meetings. Knowing there was an issue generating significant interest I planned for double that number. We had 800 clickers, 838 parking spaces, sufficient poll pads to efficiently check in 800 voters, double the usual police presence and we were in the WA gym which has a capacity of 896 people. In the last 30 years there have been only 3 other Town Meetings attended by more than 1,000 people. I monitored the informational events leading up to Town Meeting and while those gatherings were well attended they rarely generated overflow crowds and tapered off as we got closer to October 16. Nevertheless, my estimate for this Meeting turned out to be wrong. We checked in 1,124 voters that night. Compounding my error was the fact that we lost over 200 parking spaces on the WA practice fields which were too wet to be used for parking. Because some folks had mentioned that they believed 800 might be an underestimate, we had a contingency plan in place for overflow voting in the auditorium. That room was wired in advance for video and audio broadcast, we had an Assistant Moderator and Assistant Clerk at the ready and voters there would be able to vote with orange voter cards.
It wasn’t enough. The Meeting took place, votes were taken, the Town’s business was conducted BUT the voters were inconvenienced, kept out too late and were justifiably displeased. That cannot happen again.
What have we learned and where do we go from here? Here are some of our thoughts to date. We need more parking: another lot must be available with transportation to and from WA and there must be clear direction to the voters in advance of the Meeting and also once the WA lot is approaching capacity. We need faster check-in: we are in the process of securing additional poll pads and thinking about better placement of more tellers to avoid long check-in lines. We need more clickers: we have requested a proposal to purchase additional clickers from our vendor and to examine why the clickers we have took so long to calculate the votes. We need two-way audio visual to any secondary location: we are talking with vendors and other towns about how to efficiently and affordably accomplish this. This is only a partial list - we continue to work on all issues raised by the October 16 Meeting.
To those who have offered support and suggestions since the Meeting, my sincere thanks. I’ve taken every communication seriously and incorporated them all into my thought process. To those who might have been discouraged by the disorder of the Meeting, especially voters attending for the first time, please don’t let this keep you from attending again. I promise you we will do everything possible to make things better! In spite of the conditions at the last Meeting I still sincerely believe that democracy works best when everyone participates. Annual Town Meeting will be held on Saturday, March 23 , 2024. Please mark your calendar now and I hope to see you there!
WHAT IS TOWN MEETING?
Town Meeting is the legislative branch of Westford's government, all registered voters may attend, speak and vote. If you are registered to vote in Westford you can, and should, participate in Town Meeting. Renters as well as property owners, if registered to vote, may fully participate at Town Meeting.
HAS WESTFORD EVER CONSIDERED A FORM OF GOVERNMENT OTHER THAN OPEN TOWN MEETING?
Westford last considered changing our form of government to do away with Open Town Meeting in 2007. You can see the detailed report of that study group here: RepresentativeTownMeetingStudyCommitteeReport
Need to register to vote? Click here.
Want to know more about Town Meeting? Here are some resources:
What is Town Meeting? (5 minute video)
New at Town Meeting this year (2022) (9 minute video)
Who Decides What to Put on the Warrant? (6 minute video)
What is a Consent Agenda? (5 minute video)
How do we Vote on the Budget? (8 minute video)
Town Meeting Explained (5 minute video)
SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. Do I have to attend the entire meeting?
A. It would be great if every voter could attend the entire meeting but sometimes life gets in the way. You may attend as much or as little of the meeting as you are able, the Town will benefit from whatever amount of time you can spare.
Q. I don’t know anything about the issues, how can I vote on these matters?
A. If you want to educate yourself in advance keep checking this webpage for further information, but even if you aren’t able to do that you can vote soundly just by listening to and considering the presentations of each article at Town Meeting.
Q. I don’t like to speak in public, if I attend will I be required to speak?
A. Absolutely not! You are not required to speak at all, only if you want to. And you can vote on each issue – or not – as you see fit.