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April 8, 2014

Town Meeting to vote on date change, park

WEST NEWBURY — Two grassroots petitions — one to change when Town Meeting is held and the other to designate a permanent town park at the nexus of Church and Bridge streets — are on the warrant for Town Meeting later this month.

A quorum of 90 voters is needed to take up the town’s annual business at the Town Annex, 379 Main St., at 7 p.m. on April 28.

Petition organizer Jacquine Johnston said changing the day that Annual Town Meetings are held — from Mondays evenings to Saturday afternoons — is actually not a new idea.

“Historically, the meeting was always held on a Saturday in April because after a long winter the residents met for a day when the roads were in good shape and the field work on the farms hadn’t begun yet,” she said. It was a chance to deal with the town’s business while meeting with others in town socially, said Johnston, who serves as chairwoman of the Council on Aging.

In 1979 town bylaws were changed in order to hold Town Meetings on Monday nights.

“It seemed like a better time for residents because of lifestyle changes, but we think it is time to look at it again,” Johnston said.

Currently the annual meeting must take place “the Monday preceding the first Monday in May and that the election of officers be held on the first Monday in May,” the bylaw states.

Johnston and 28 fellow petitioners seek mandate that the meeting take place “on two Saturdays preceding the First Monday in May.”

They argue holding Town Meetings on Saturdays has several benefits, including increased voter participation.

West Newbury has 3,251 registered voters, but most of them never show up for Town Meeting, where participation is frequently around 5 to 10 percent of that number.

“It would also be easier getting a baby sitter on a Saturday than on a school night,” Johnston added.

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