Westborough officials mull changes to future meetings


By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor

Westborough officials mull changes to future meetingsWestborough- After recently completing a nearly 12 hour Annual Town Meeting/Special Town Meeting (STM) that stretched over a full day and three nights Westborough's officials are trying to assess how to streamline the process for future meetings. At the April 10 Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting, the board, Town Manager Jim Malloy and Town Moderator Joe Harrington met to discuss possibilities that would work for both officials and voters.

Malloy told the board that he had run stats on the numbers of speakers and how long each spoke at the ATM/STM March 17, 19, and 20. Of the 100 who spoke, 67 were residents, he said; those people spoke a combined total of 12.5 hours. Three of those residents spoke 20 percent of all times a resident took the floor, he added.

Harrington noted that the town does have a bylaw which restricts a resident to speaking only twice on a particular issue. He admitted that he does not enforce it tightly at ATMs but perhaps could do so in the future. Another option, he added, would be to limit a person to only being allowed to speak for four minutes at a time.

“I also think the “motion to close debate” is underused, too,” he noted.

Malloy noted that he had heard from several residents who expressed frustration at the ATM process.

“They said they came to vote, not listen to people preach,” he said.

Selectman Denny Drewry said while he understood that sentiment, he thought overall the process worked well.

“Many times people who are speaking up are doing so because they are against the article and they just want to express their point,” he added. He said that he has also heard from some residents that they don's feel comfortable voting in a public environment, especially on controversial articles; they would rather do so via a private ballot.

Harrington noted that doing so would add extra time to what is often already a very lengthy meeting.

“We'se making million dollar decisions at times,” Drewry said. “If it takes an extra hour, I's ok with that.”

Selectman George Barrette said that article proponents – including himself- need to make shorter, more concise presentations. (Barrette is a member of the Municipal Buildings Committee which made a lengthy presentation at the ATM).

Selectman Tim Dodd said, “The struggle we are facing is historical – when Town Meeting started 100 or so years ago it worked differently, it was a very different world and information was accessed in different ways”

He suggested that perhaps more information could be put online ahead of Town Meeting so people could review it before coming to the meeting.

Selectman Ian Johnson said that while he agreed that presentations could be made tighter, “some things come with the territory.”

“I am a proponent of Town Meeting,” he said. “But I think sometimes you just have to grin and bear it – you get what you ask for.”

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