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Town Meeting should be postponed

October 15, 2014

For the third time since 2012, the language of the town charter, and its effect on Town Meeting, is being tested.

Chapter 88, section 3 of the Walpole Town Charter states that “the Finance Committee shall act, on all articles on the [Town Meeting] Warrant, as an advisory committee to the Town and shall report in writing its recommendations. These recommendations shall be distributed to each residence not later than seven days prior to each Annual or Special Town Meeting.”

Pursuant to this provision in the charter, a copy of the Town Meeting warrant with the Fin Com’s recommendations are customarily sent to each Walpole residence at least seven days before each Town Meeting.

This year, before the upcoming Fall Annual Town Meeting, the warrants apparently got sent in the mail but there was a mailing error that delayed their delivery. As of last night, the mailings are believed to be stuck somewhere in the state of Maine.

As a result, the warrants still have not been received by all Walpole households, with fewer than seven days to go before next Monday’s scheduled Town Meeting.

Town Meeting Reps are set to vote on some big-ticket items, including the $30 million facilities project, and a $4.5 million purchase of Sharon Country Day Camp.

The Board of Selectmen has posted the entire warrant with Fin. Com. recommendations on the town website, and is also planning to send out another copy of the warrant to each residence by mail. Selectmen also requested an opinion from Town Counsel as to whether Town Meeting should be postponed to allow the warrants to be received by residences at least seven days before the meeting. However, the Town Counsel has in the past set the precedent that the town charter is meaningless if there are no enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure its provisions are followed to the t. This provision of the charter has no enforcement mechanism in place to prevent Town Meeting from taking place even though the warrants have not been distributed to all residences.

Even though the town has posted a copy of the warrant and Fin Com recommendations on the town website, this is obviously not an acceptable way to reach each “residence” in town, as per the town charter. Many residents may not have access to the internet. The charter is intended to protect the residents of the town who may not have access to the internet or may not have the resources to get the information they need about town issues other than through mail. This is an issue of good government, and obeying the letter of the law, as stipulated in the town charter.

Town Meeting next week should be postponed to allow all residences to receive the Town Meeting warrant at least seven days beforehand. This is in the best interest of the town, because it protects the meaning of the town charter (our town’s Constitution). Also, and perhaps more importantly, if Town Meeting is allowed to proceed, the town opens itself up to lawsuits related to the votes taken at Town Meeting. A lawsuit could be filed to prevent the town from moving forward with the purchase of the Day Camp or the facilities plan, if both were approved at Town Meeting.

Interestingly, another provision of the Town Charter requires that Town Meeting be held “annually at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday in October.”

However, this provision also states that “​In case of an emergency, the business of the meeting may be adjourned for no longer than two weeks.​”​ It really depends on what the definition of “emergency” is.

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