WILMINGTON, MA — Town Moderator Rob Peterson and challenger Kevin MacDonald recently took part in a debate as part of the WCTV and Chamber of Commerce’s Candidates Night. Below are some highlights:
“I’ve overseen the last three Annual Town Meetings, as well as the last Special Town Meeting in December 2017,” said Town Moderator Rob Peterson. “I’ve presided over these meetings in a fair and impartial manner, allowing free discussion to occur within the rules established prior to commencement of each meeting… I’ve also shown the ability to manage those whose attendance at Town Meeting is driven by an agenda that is contrary to the operation of an orderly Town Meeting.”
“I believe we deserve a Town Moderator that respects [us] and has an understanding of the procedures and rules of the Town Meeting,” said challenger Kevin MacDonald. “As your moderator, I pledge to serve all the Town Meeting voters and the whole community as a non-partisan, non-advocate, and non-biased meeting leader.”
Can You Remain Neutral On Issues At & Outside Town Meeting?
“I think it’s abundantly clear – based on the track records of the two candidates here tonight — that one of us is able to remain neutral on matters that may or may not come before Town Meeting, whether asked in an assembly or otherwise, while the other – as recent as the Town Warrant Meeting – has spoke to articles that he hopes to preside over as Town Moderator,” said Peterson. “My opponent has shown an inability of the past 20+ years to so act impartially, such as on the floor of Town Meeting, where he’s called to order, and often doesn’t heed those orders…”
“A moderator must remain neutral in order to perform his duties, however, the Town Moderator is a registered voter and has the right to vote at Town Meeting as precedent has been set in the event of a tie,” said MacDonald. “[I would] absolutely able to remain neutral in terms of running the meeting, and procedurally, and having all the rules followed, but – in terms of voting – he certainly has the right to vote.”
Key Characteristics That Are Vital To Running An Efficient Town Meeting?
“The top character quality is honesty,” said MacDonald. “One of the problems I see with Town Meeting is that the people of Wilmington, who work hard to pay their taxes, are presented with budgets that are fraudulent.” MacDonald claims that over-budgeting and “lying, cheating and deceiving” has led to the town’s existing free cash balance.
“The Town Moderator precedes over and regulates the proceedings of Town Meeting. His job is to remain fair, impartial, and make sure the rules (town inhabitant bylaws, Robert Rules of Order, and Massachusetts General Laws) are adhered to during the entirety of the meeting,” said Peterson. “Enforcing those rules is the the way you effectuate a fair, transparent, efficient, and orderly Town Meeting.”
How Do You Keep Emotional Speakers On Topic While Remaining Fair & Respectful?
Peterson pointed to his performance at December’s Special Town Meeting, which dealt with the very contentious issue of detox facilities, as an example of how he was able to keep speakers on topic while allowing folks on both sides to express their feelings and bring pertinent information to the deliberation.
“I don’t have a problem with someone being emotional or passionate about an issue,” said MacDonald. “A moderator’s job is to keep the meeting in order and on point, but there has to be a little bit of flexibility… Sometimes you have to refer to an issue that is not directly what we’re talking about to make a point.”
At What Point Should Someone Be Removed From Town Meeting?
“I think it’s pretty clear. Massachusetts General Law states that when a speaker is called to order, they should heed that call to order. If they do not, then – and only then – should the Town Moderator take the necessary steps to remove that person from Town Meeting,” said Peterson. “It’s been my purview throughout my entire term to give someone the benefit of the doubt – one, two, three, sometimes four times. It’s the repetitive disobeying of the rules, disrupting the meeting, talking over speakers, calling people by name.. at that point, the rest of the people have a right to a fair and impartial meeting…”
“If a person is a disorderly topic, off topic, and fails to heed the warnings of the moderator, he absolutely can get called to order. If he repeatedly disobeys the moderator, he can be removed from the meeting,” said MacDonald.
How Would You Increase Attendance & Participation At Town Meeting? Are There Any Technological Advancements You’d Like To See Incorporated Into Town Meeting?
“I would model the Town Meeting after a baseball game with an on deck circle, having some coordination with the poll workers and not make people have to stand in line for a long time,” said MacDonald. “When you look at our State Legislature and Congress, they have electronic equipment to make their votes. It would be nice to cast your vote electronically so it got registered up on a screen.”
“When I was elected back in 2015, I had a discussion with town officials about what we could do in the immediate to make Town Meeting a better process. That brought forward the electronic display behind the Town Moderator,” said Peterson. “I’m having continued discussions with Town Manager Hull relative to some sort of online portal relative to questions on specific warrant articles. There are surrounding towns that do this. I’d like to see that down the road. Not quire there yet regarding electronic voting. I prefer the standing vote and voice vote. Not completely opposed to it, however, and if a proposal was brought forth by town officials, I’d certainly entertain it.”
“Town Meeting has to become a more efficient process,” continued Peterson. “A lot of people are thwarted to coming to our Town Meetings because we have individuals who continually to seek to speak on subject matters they’ve already spoken to, and talk about things outside the scope of the article.”
Town Moderator Serves On A 3-Person Appointing Committee For Finance Committee Members. What Qualities Would You Look For In A Finance Committee Member?
“The number quality has to be honesty,” said MacDonald. “What I’m seeing right now with the current Finance Committee is a lack of intellect… You have to have people who have a clue.”
“I think our Finance Committee does an exemplary job,” said Peterson. “We have to continue to seek qualified individuals to appointment to our Finance Committee… We have to find a cross section of our community is the only way to effectuate a solid, well-represented Finance Committee that can form the best budget for our town.”
“I’m the only candidate in the race who is running to genuinely effectuate an orderly, fair, transparent and efficient town meeting process,” said Peterson. “To be Town Moderator requires poise and the ability to remain calm… An effective Town Moderator is impartial and devoid of overt emotion on a given issue. Anyone who has been to a past Town Meeting knows that I’m the only candidate in this race capable of maintaining my pose, staying calm in the face of disagreement and carrying myself as to foster respectful conversation and debate.”
“I pledge to encourage and promote widespread participation in debating the issues at Town Meeting,” said MacDonald. “I pledge to make you feel welcome to get up and speak and offer your perspective and ideas that are germane to the article at hand. You will no longer be talked to in a condescending, disrespectful manner.”
MacDonald later alleged that Peterson had a conflict of interest by being Town Moderator and working for a law firm in town that sometimes goes in front of town boards.
“There is no conflict of interest. There has been no conflict of interest. There will be no conflict of interest,” responded Peterson. “I took this job as a financial determinant to my office, myself, to my wife, to my 9-month old child, to my father, to my brother in college, to everyone else. There is no conflict of interest whatsoever.”
When running three years ago, Peterson pledged that his firm would not represent any clients in matters that would have to come in front of Town Meeting. He has honored that pledge.
Watch the 30-minute debate, courtesy of Wilmington Community Television, below:
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