Town Meeting: An evening out with friends

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News

Now is the time to mark your calendar to plan a “night on the town” on Monday April 23rd. But instead of dinner and a movie, join some friends for an evening of discovery and finding common ground at our Hingham Town Meeting.

The League of Women Voters of Hingham recently reviewed the voter participation rates for our town meeting and other elections from 2000 through 2017. For 12 of these 18 years, 5% or less of registered voters showed up at the high school for Town Meeting to make decisions that impact the lives of everyone in Hingham. In only one of these years did we get as high as 11% turnout. By comparison, our turnout for the 5 presidential elections during this period ranged from 76 to 85% of registered voters. The low turnout for Town Meeting suggests a need for education about the importance, and unique democratic characteristics of Hingham’s “Open Town Meeting”.

Importance: So many things that impact our daily lives in Hingham are the result of decisions voted on by our Town Meeting—from the town services we fund each year, and improvements in key infrastructure like public safety facilities and schools, to zoning and development policies and open space decisions. Among the 25 warrant articles and 10 zoning by-law amendments to be voted on at Town Meeting this year are annual budget items, decisions on marijuana, proposed restoration of town-owned wharves and repairs at the high school, funding for new fire-department equipment, Community Preservation grant recommendations, and proposed rules concerning accessory dwelling units. None of this is trivial.

Unique democratic characteristics: Hingham’s one-person/one vote Open Town Meeting is pure democracy in action. But there is more that distinguishes it. By experiencing a town meeting’s public dialogue, we can learn from each other, and make vital, clear-eyed decisions together. Last year, the vigorous discussions on two very different topics—about whether to change the size of our board of selectmen and about off-leash dog walking in Bare Cove Park, gave us all an opportunity both to learn from fact-based presentations and to gain understanding from the range of views that were presented. As a result, those who participated in town meeting found the outcome of the vote less about “which side won” and more about what made sense for our community as a whole. There will no doubt be vigorous discussion at the April 23rd Town Meeting on multiple topics of high interest. Experience suggests that we will find a way to make decisions as a community. That’s why it is important to set aside the evening now so that you can be part of that informed decision-making.

One more note of encouragement: The Town Moderator works very hard to manage Hingham’s Town Meeting so that it is completed in just one evening. He has succeeded in 2 of the past 3 years.

So, think of this as a special night on the town—a once-a-year alternative to dinner and a show. Invite neighbors to join you. This is an evening about community, after all. Best to grab a quick dinner in time to get to the high school and check in between 6:30 and 6:45, so there is a quorum in time to start promptly at 7 pm. See you there!

By Eileen McIntyre
Hingham Journal Commentary
March 22, 2018

Eileen McIntyre is a member of the League of Women Voters of Hingham. For a recording of the 2018 Warrant Review, held on February 28th, &  for a detailed look at Hingham voter turnout data, from 2000  through 2017, go to: www.my.lwv.org/massachusetts/hingham

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Hingham