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Commentary on Town Meeting last week

May 16, 2010

Editor’s Note: I had an absolutely splendid day at Walpole Day yesterday, and met a number of really great people. Governor Deval Patrick, Republican Candidate for Governor Charlie Baker, Republican Candidate for State Treasurer Karyn Polito, and dozens of other politicians were there. I also met a number of great local residents. My live show included two great interviews with Mike Berry and Patrick Shield, running for the Board of Selectmen.

This post has been edited since being originally published.

I had one of my great friends and neighbors, Mike Demarais, take some photos of the event. I hope to obtain these and publish them soon. They include some great pics of the governor.

Town Meeting ended last week after three tumultuous nights. I’ll let The Walpole Times cover the news aspect of Town Meeting. Here are my observations that you won’t read in the Times or anywhere else:

1. For all three nights, Town Administrator Michael Boynton, Selectmen Chairman Chris Timson, and Town Counsel sat on the right side of the stage in TOTAL DARKNESS. In a way, I thought this was more than appropriate given that both Mr. Boynton and Mr. Timson, especially lately, have not been entirely transparent on some issues and have performed some of their work in the dark (biotech and the power plant are two of the most notable examples.) I wonder whether the fact that they were sitting in the dark was done deliberately, to symbolically reflect the attitude of these two leaders on the issue of openness. Just one look at the town website, which is anything but a promotion of open government, reinforces this attitude further.

In all seriousness, however, the issue of lighting on the stage was a serious problem and I would hope that during the Fall Town Meeting our town officials would be given a bit more light.

2. Town Moderator Jon Rockwood wrote on his blog the following: “From when I first became a Town Meeting member in 2001, then as Moderator in 2004, I do not remember any roll call votes being taken. Now we have had two in two years. As this just-completed Town Meeting showed unequivocally, our Town Meeting is very engaged in the process of self-government.” Mr. Rockwood, who I respect in so many ways, makes an excellent point. However, I disagree with his hypothesis as to why there have been so many roll call votes in the last few years. I theorize that this town has just about had enough of the direction this town is going in. Along the same vein, I have been attending Town Meetings since middle school, and I have NEVER seen the amount of contention and controversy that I saw at this year’s Spring Town Meeting. The first night, especially, was so contentious I thought I was sitting in on a Congressional session in Washington, DC. My impression immediately was that RTMs are fed up with the direction the town is going in and are ready to change things. On the first night, I was surprised by the tremendous turnout of regular citizens, non-RTMs, who attended Town Meeting, which is rare in the years I have attended. To me, people just seemed upset about wages, taxes, the budget, the police station, and their community as a whole. The police station became one of the first overrides in recent memory to not get the support of Town Meeting. This is a telltale sign that RTMs are ready for a new direction. It was also one of the first Town Meetings that I can remember that went into a third night, because there was just so much discussion of the police station and some of the early Articles on the first night. Just the fact that Town Meeting wasn’t even close to halfway through the warrant by the end of the first night says a lot.

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