During this local election season, check back every week for a new question-and-answer with your two candidates for Town Moderator – Leigh Martinson and Robert Peterson Jr. Both men square off on Saturday, April 25 to replace longtime retiring Town Moderator Jim Stewart for a 3-year term.
Responses are in the candidates’ own words, unedited. Each candidate was given the same amount of time (approximately one week) to answer the question. Order of answers will alternate each week.
This Week’s Question:
Describe three improvements you’d like to see made to Town Meeting.
Robert Peterson Jr.’s Answer
I understand the process of Town Meeting and appreciate the painstaking measures of our town officials to put forth an organized, informative and efficient proceeding for our citizens.
If we hope to continually better our town government and increase citizen involvement, we must always be open to new ideas and improvements. As Town Moderator, it would be my personal goal to foster a Town Meeting environment whereas every attendee would have the opportunity to be fully informed on the issues and have a firm understanding of the rules of procedure (Robert Rules of Order, as supplemented by the Town Bylaws where applicable). A well-informed attendee allows for an efficient Town Meeting, which is something that I believe all Wilmington citizens can appreciate. Thus, I have three proposals for how we can improve Town Meeting: (1) In the Warrant Booklet, I suggest we provide detailed explanations from the Planning Board and Finance Committee, respectively, on why they approved or disapproved each article on which they are called to act; (2) In the Warrant Booklet, I suggest the insertion of commonly used rules of procedure (Roberts Rules of Order); and (3) We must continue to ensure that debate on the floor of Town Meeting is confined to the underlying subject matter of the respective warrant article being considered at a given time.
I believe it would be beneficial to citizens if the Finance Committee and Planning Board provided a detailed, concise written explanation for their rationale of approval or disapproval of each respective Warrant Article. Such an explanation would be included in the Warrant Booklet, and citizens could reference the explanation in an effort to more fully understand a respective article and form their opinion on its viability for passage. It is not the intention of this proposal to burden our members of the Planning Board and/or the Finance Committee, who selflessly volunteer their time to our Town, but rather an effort to put forth the reasoning of the aforementioned board and committee. While I am aware that the Warrant Booklet has in the past contained a brief explanation of the action taken by the Finance Committee, my proposal would be to augment that explanation where appropriate. It is my belief that this proposal will allow citizens to be more fully informed and educated on each article, and the information might create interest for citizens to attend Town Meeting and voice their opinion on a given matter.
The Moderator is charged with ensuring that the voters know exactly what they are voting on, and the underlying rule(s) on which a motion is being brought forth to the assembly. In order to create a Town Meeting where voters can better understand the Moderator and the rules on which he speaks, the commonly used rules of order can be inserted in a section of the Warrant Booklet (much like sections on Procedural Definitions and Finance Terminology) and voters can reference that section for clarification on a given rule. If a voter can reference the rule on which the Moderator speaks, I believe the voter will be better informed and the Moderator will be better understood.
Limiting debate to the underlying issues of the specific warrant article being considered is absolutely imperative to the functioning of an efficient Town Meeting. This is not a new concept, but rather my oath to continue the work of our former Moderator, Jim Stewart, who was cognizant of the need for order. If elected Town Moderator, I would dedicate myself to chairing an efficient Town Meeting and taking all proper action to ensure order is maintained. Dilatory Motions (those used to delay or obstruct the meeting) will not be tolerated and off topic discussion will not be acceptable. However, free speech will not be infringed and every speaker who remains within the rules of order will always be allowed to voice their opinion.
The goal of any successful Town Meeting is an efficient proceeding with a well-informed assembly. The proposals I outlined above are specifically aimed at that goal.
Thank you for your attention to this material, and I respectfully as for your vote on April 25, 2015.
Leigh Martinson’s Answer
Wilmington’s town meeting process has served the community well for a substantial number of years. Our community has conducted its business in an effective manner. It’s difficult to suggest improvements to a process that has lead to our community’s prosperity. However, I’ve been asked to suggest improvements to the process. The following are exactly that, mere suggestions.
1. An idea worth considering is to have the Moderator, or some other town official, conduct one or more educational seminars that explains the history of the Town Meeting process, the roles and duties of the Selectmen, and the functions of the various committees (e.g., the Finance Committee). I believe these details are interesting, worth understanding, and could ultimately drive increased participation in our governing process.
2. Another suggestion is to have the Moderator conduct one or more educational seminars on Roberts Rules of Order as implemented in our Bylaws. While these rules might seem intimidating to some at first, they are quite logical. In my role as a patent trial attorney, it is my job to make complicated technologies understandable to everyone. I welcome the opportunity to share my knowledge of the procedural rules of Town Meeting with anyone who has an interest in the subject matter.
3. My final suggestion is to provide on-site child care for those parents who want to attend but have family obligations that may hinder their ability to make it to the meeting. For example, the Red Cross offers babysitting certification courses. The town could work with the Red Cross and establish a hands-on training course the day of Town Meeting. Offering our younger town members the opportunity gain a certification while providing a public service may lead to increased participation at Town Meeting from their parents.
Again, these are merely suggestions. I am proud of the work our community has done in the past. I have no doubt that we will continue to thrive under our current system in the future.
Leigh John Martinson