The warrant for Tewksbury’s 2022 Fall Special Town Meeting is out. In this post we’ll walk through the articles, or items up for vote, and then explain how to navigate STM like an expert.
The Carnation encourages all residents to attend town meeting — while it does take planning, especially for parents and those who work evenings, decisions made there affect everything from how long elected officials serve to the how much money is spent on schools to how land near your home can be used.
If you are not registered to vote and want to take part, you still have time, but the window closes on Sept. 23. The Town Clerk has information about how to register. If you’re not registered in town you can still attend, but you need to sit in the visitor’s section and may not vote on articles.
Dates to note: Special Town Meeting 2022 will be Monday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Tewksbury Memorial High School gym.
Residents who want to ask questions about articles should consider attending the Finance Committee public hearing on Monday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Town Manager Richard Montuori and other staff will be there to answer voter and Finance Committee questions in a relatively informal forum. Asking basic questions on Town Meeting floor is seen as disrespectful of voters’ time.
What’s on the warrant, or list of items to be voted on? A paper warrant will show up in resident mailboxes in the next few weeks. You can also download a PDF copy. There will be copies as well as addendum documents available at the gym.
Here’s a summary of each article, or jump to our Town Meeting FAQs.
Article 1 raises the salaries of elected town officials, in response to a request made by Select Board member Jay Kelly in May. Montuori came up with the recommended numbers by first restoring salaries to the 2009 level, when a 10% cut was made to each elected official’s pay.
“Once that was done, we looked at what was a fair and equitable approach to all of the elected official salaries,” said Montuori.
Article 2 pays some bills left over from FY22.
Article 3 allocates about $2.13 million that is above expectations, from both the state and higher local receipts from new growth. The line items both pay down debt and fund some wish list items. The latter include four additional patrol officers for the Tewksbury Police Department, new accounting software and IT services and those raises for elected officials. There will also be four additional firefighters hired, mainly to run the town’s second ambulance, which is now staffed via overtime.
The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend adoption of these articles. To hear the full discussion, click in to 1:28 in this video.
While Article 3 allocates money for ongoing operational spending, like salaries, Article 4 is limited to one-time capital expenditures. These include a new vehicle for the town’s animal control officers and carpeting for the library as well as $1.5 million for a final architectural plan and design for the town’s DPW/School Maintenance Facility. The town manager explained that, by paying for the design upfront, the town has the option to use it this year or at a later date based on when the DPW/School facility moves forward.
Article 5 authorizes but does not commit the Town to borrow $26.5 million to construct the DPW/School Maintenance Facility, should economic conditions remain conducive to the project.
“The DPW project will not move forward until I know we can sustain it,” said Montuori, adding that “it’s a scaled-down version of what was originally brought forward. We can afford it within our tax levy, and we’re not looking for a debt exclusion.”
He assured the Select Board that, should economic conditions deteriorate, the town can hit the brakes. In addition, the Select Board will need to OK the borrowing. However, should supply chain issues ease or rates dip, having Town Meeting’s approval means the town can move forward expeditiously.
The Select Board voted 3 – 2 to recommend adoption of these articles. To hear the full discussion of Article 4 capital items and Article 5 funding, click in to 1:53 in this video.
Article 6 authorizes the town manager to move any free cash to the town’s stabilization fund for future emergencies or one-time purchases or projects.
Article 7 authorizes the town to spend $25,000 in Community Preservation Funding to improve the skate park at Livingston St.
Article 8 adjusts the town’s bylaws to allow for retail marijuana. Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick presented draft regulations to the Select Board. The goal, said Sadwick, is to stay as close to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission’s regulations as possible.
“That way, when an applicant would come before you, they will be providing the same information that they will be providing to Cannabis Control,” Sadwick said.
Article 9 is to rezone to specify where retail shops may be located, while Article 10 authorizes Tewksbury to impose a local 3% excise tax on retail marijuana sales.
The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend adoption of these articles. To hear more detail about the draft regulations as well as rezoning and taxation, click in to 1:23 in this video.
What is town meeting? Tewksbury is one of more than 250 towns that have an open town meeting form of government, where all registered voters have a say in everything from zoning to how money is spent to how long elected officials serve and what they are paid.
Town meeting is often described as “the purest form of democratic governing,” and in Tewksbury, citizens have elected to keep open town meeting for that reason.
When is town meeting? In Tewksbury, town meetings convene in May and October. Interestingly, town elections in April are actually part of our annual TM. Town meetings are held in the gym at Tewksbury Memorial High School.
What’s the difference between annual and special town meetings? Each town must hold one annual town meeting; in Tewksbury, that is held in May. Additional town meetings are called “special” meetings. They may be called by the Board of Selectmen as many times during the year as is considered necessary.
In general, annual town meeting acts on fiscal issues, zoning changes, bylaw amendments and other matters affecting the town. Special town meetings typically deal with paying bills and zoning articles.
Citizens may submit articles for either annual or special TM. Last October, there were two citizen-submitted articles, one on Planning Board term lengths and one to make Tewksbury a “do not knock” town. There are no such articles for 2022.
Who can take part? Anyone can attend, but only Tewksbury residents who are registered to vote can vote at TM. There is a visitors’ section for nonvoters, press and nonresidents who are interested in attending. Kids are welcome at TM and don’t need to sit in the visitor section.
Who actually does attend? Historically, a tiny percentage of voters. Tewksbury has about 24,000 people registered. The average number of voters who’ve attended town meetings back to 2018, according to Town Clerk Denise Graffeo? 240.
That means that about 1% of voters are making major decisions for the whole town. The highest town meeting attendance since 2018 was 922 in May 2019, when we voted to build a new elementary school. In May 2022, there were 150 and 108 voters at TM and STM, respectively. In October 2021, there were 190 voters and 15 visitors in attendance.
What is voted on at town meeting? Before every TM, the town clerk issues a warrant, which lists the articles up for vote. Residents can find warrants on the town’s website, and paper copies are sent to all residents. Paper warrants are also available at the library and town hall, and copies as well as addendums are available at the meeting. The warrant lists a meeting’s time, location and the articles to be considered.
What happens when I go to town meeting? It’s a good idea to arrive at least 15 minutes early to check in. Voters will be issued a ribbon to wear that indicates they are eligible to vote.
The moderator will call the meeting to order. After some opening formalities, articles come up for vote in order. Noncontroversial articles may be bundled into a single article, called a “consent calendar,” to be voted on together. This saves time.
Any voter may speak on any article; nonresidents and nonvoters may also speak, with permission of the voting body. More on speaking dos and don’ts later.
Once all speakers have had their say, the moderator calls for a vote. Most votes are handled by either voice vote or by counters — people physically walking around with clickers to count off voters, who rise for either a “yes” or a “no” vote. Articles that deal with salaries are handled via secret ballot.
Town meetings must end by 11 p.m., but residents are normally out earlier, depending on how many articles there are and whether items are controversial.
Who runs TM? It’s the moderator’s job to run town meeting. Specifically, the moderator declares the outcome of all voice votes, decides if a standing count is needed and rules on procedural issues. In Tewksbury, the moderator has broad discretion.
Moderators are elected, and the term of office is three years in Tewksbury. Dustin Weir is our current moderator. When an elected moderator is absent, a temporary moderator may be elected at town meeting.
What if I have something to say? When it’s an article’s turn to be debated, you walk up to the podium. There may be a line to speak. When it’s your turn, the moderator will ask you to state your name and address for the record.
Do: Speak clearly and directly into the microphone so everyone can hear you, and stick to the topic being discussed. Direct all comments to the moderator. If you have a question for, say, the town manager, ask it through the moderator.
Don’t: Attack or attempt to debate any individual, official or previous speaker. Tewksbury has a proud tradition of being respectful at its town meetings, even on contentious articles. Keep arguments factual, stick to the allotted five minutes and pay attention to the moderator.
While everyone has an opportunity to ask questions, residents are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the warrant in advance. There is usually plenty of information available about complicated or out-of-the ordinary articles, and the finance committee and other boards hold informational meetings in advance of TM where residents can ask questions and get information.
Specifically, the Finance Committee holds a hearing on all the warrant articles prior to Town Meeting — and the date and time of that hearing is listed on the cover of each warrant. The Finance Committee has one major job: to advise town meeting. This hearing is the very best place to ask questions about articles, as it is less formal than town meeting and staff are on hand to give answers.
For October STM, this meeting will be held on Monday, Sept. 26 at 7:00 p.m. at Town Hall.
Can I put an article on the warrant? Yes, though not for October, as that warrant is already set. You can find it here. Citizen articles for annual town meetings require 10 signatures from registered voters, while articles for special town meetings require 100 signatures. Articles must be reviewed by town counsel to ensure they conform with state laws and town bylaws. The town clerk can advise interested residents on deadlines and provide examples.
Some terms you may hear, and what they mean:
Amendment: Any TM participant may make a motion to amend an article; that is, to add or change language. Amendments must be presented to the moderator in writing and be voted on.
Indefinite postponement: This is a negative motion. A yes vote on indefinite postponement, or on “tabling the article,” defeats the article.
Move the question or article: This is a motion to end discussion on an article and go to a vote. A resident may stand and make a motion to “move the question” when he or she believes the arguments are becoming redundant. Note, however, that you cannot get up, make an argument and then ask to move the question and thus shut out further debate. The moderator decides when to close debate and normally allows those in line to speak.
Two-thirds vote: Sometimes a super-majority — two-thirds of voters present —must vote yes for specific articles to pass.
You can also find a Town Meeting 101 presentation by the town clerk.
The Carnation staff hope to see you on Oct. 3. If you have questions not answered here or in the 101 video, contact the town clerk’s office or drop a line to email@example.com and we’ll get you an answer.