Pro-transparency Message Dominates Town Meeting’s Final Night
Marbleheaders rallied to attend a third night of Town Meeting on Wednesday, May 3. While nights one and two were marked by sometimes raucous examples of democracy in action, night three was both a shorter and a less contentious experience, with the majority of those in attendance enthusiastically supporting measures brought forth to increase the transparency of town operations.
Moderator Jack Attridge called the meeting to order to much applause following a delay necessitated by the requirement that a quorum – in this case at least 300 registered voters – be in attendance in order to conduct business. Given that the more controversial articles had already been covered during the previous two evenings, night three was much more sparsely attended. Beginning at 7:00 p.m. – the scheduled start time – broadcasts showing on MHTV and YouTube bore the message: “We need a quorum. Please come to the Veterans Middle School.” Marbleheaders heeded the call, and a quorum was eventually reached around 7:20 p.m.
Dan Albert started off the evening with Article 49 proposing the creation of a Traffic Advisory Committee to seek out opportunities to enhance walking and driving safety in Marblehead. It received overwhelming approval.
The rest of the evening focused largely on issues associated with the transparency and management of town committee and board meetings. Amy Drinker, Vice Chair of the Moderator’s Committee formed last year to analyze issues surrounding hybrid and remote meetings, gave a presentation about Articles 51 and 52 – both sponsored by Lynn Nadeau and others – which would, respectively, urge all committees and boards to post meeting recordings on the town website and allow for remote meeting participation for both members and the public. Both of these articles are advisory rather than prescriptive.
Both articles received strong support from Town Meeting participants, who responded positively to Nadeau’s claim that “it will be a strong message that we want transparency in our town.” Regarding Article 51, Sarah Fox, Chair of the School Committee, emphasized the ease of live-streaming meetings even for those who are not tech savvy. This article “increases access to the democratic process,” she said, and “I really can’t encourage enough the support of this article.” Jeanne Lambkin built on this sentiment and concluded by asking all town elected officials and candidates to “please commit to bringing to life this recommendation in your committee.” Article 52 received similar endorsements, and both articles passed easily.
Article 54, which would require the creation of a Standard Operating Procedures Manual for the Select Board, Board of Health, Harbors & Waters Board, and Recreation & Parks Commission, was presented by Jenn Schaeffner, filling in for sponsor Megan Sweeney who could not attend. Schaeffner noted that it would be “a missed opportunity” not to capture the expertise of current committee members before they step down and that this would basically involve the creation of an “instruction manual providing internal frameworks and controls.” Select Board member Erin Noonan stood up to indicate that both she and fellow Board member Alexa Singer support this article, as did School Committee Chair Fox, who noted that “the more people that know what a board does, the more likely they are to get involved” and encouraged Town Meeting members to “support volunteerism and democracy in our town.”
Overall, the commitment to taking steps to increase government transparency carried the day, albeit with a note of caution from Jay Michaud, member of the Harbors & Waters Board, who noted that, despite his support for the measures under consideration, Marbleheaders should “not get the impression that there is any hanky-panky going on….I’ve heard everyone talk about transparency as if it is an issue,” he continued, but “it is NOT an issue.”
The next important opportunity for Marbleheaders to make their voices heard is in the upcoming town election scheduled for June 20, 2023. The override of Proposition 2 ½, approved on night two of Town Meeting, will be on the ballot, along with a number of contested races including those for Select Board and School Committee. Marblehead Beacon will bring you coverage as the election approaches.
Editor’s Note: Jenn Schaeffner, mentioned in this article, is a founder and editor of Marblehead Beacon, and is currently on leave while she runs for a position on the School Committee.