, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 24, 2013

New guidelines cause confusion at Town Meeting

NEWBURY — Voters dealt with a Special Town Meeting warrant in an hour and a half Tuesday but not before questions were raised by a few in attendance about the overall transparency of the process.

Held at 7 p.m. in the Newbury Elementary School, the meeting began with voters selecting Bud Kelly as temporary town moderator because Joan Weyburn was not present. Kelly informed voters that under advice of town counsel he would be following new guidelines for the meeting. Specifically voters would be asked to weigh in on motions made by selectmen, which could be different than the articles as written in the warrant.

The annual and special warrants consist of articles that make up the agenda for town meetings. Warrants are posted publicly in advance of a meeting and are often included on a town’s website. During the meeting the moderator announces the articles and then voters take action on motions made about the article after that. Frequently selectmen or department heads rise to make the motions and sometimes voters offer amendments that then have to be voted on.

This is standard Town Meeting procedure that, according to Kelly, was apparently not being followed in Newbury prior to Tuesday night.

As the meeting progressed, the change in procedure appeared to cause confusion for some voters who were unclear about what they were voting and felt they hadn’t been sufficiently warned of the business before the town. But town counsel Ginny Kremer assured voters that the warrant had been legally posted and the new format was actually the proper one.

The most in-depth debate came when voters took up Article 2, seeking $75,900 in additional budgetary spending in light of an unexpected revenue increase of $84,000.

Bruce Webster of Cottage Road questioned why town leaders hadn’t asked for this funding at the Annual Town Meeting. Since the requests are not based on emergency needs, why not wait until next year’s annual meeting to propose them, he said.

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