By Chris Kopacko, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The Board of Selectmen discussed during its March 26 meeting a text message that was sent to residents en masse during Annual Town Meeting (ATM) on March 16, urging voters to attend only for a vote on the school budget and then leave.
Described by Advisory Finance Committee Chairman Edward Behn as “gaming the system,” the text message tipped off voters as to the precise time when the school budget was being voted on, spurring many residents to show up just in time for the vote, only to leave immediately afterwards.
“That's the heart of what our government is about, it's that legislative ability,” Behn said. “And when we start to have people coming or going, or the system being played a bit, that really bothers me as a citizen.”
According to Behn, more than 100 people left ATM after the school budget was voted on.? Selectman Denny Drewry added that after a headcount he estimated the amount of people who left after the budget vote to be over 60 percent.
“We have a problem. It's a big one, and it's not going to get better,” Selectman George Barrette said of the situation, adding that he found it to be as objectionable as Behn did.
“Unfortunately, it's going to continue,” Barrette said. “If we want to get into another government study committee and change that, it's going to be a long row to hoe.”
Behn stressed that there needed to be some public discussion to figure out how prevent people from attending ATM for one issue and then leaving. He made tentative suggestions of a representative form of town meeting, as well as “lottery of the articles,” which pulls articles at random during ATM so as not to know the order.
“Some people leave town because of how much your taxes are. What would drive me out of town (and it would be hard), would be if we don's have a fair government,” Behn said.
The officials did not say during the meeting who was responsible for sending the text message out.