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Resolving the Resolution Question – finally

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Governor Baker signs legislation making it Saugus law – but Town Meeting will have to vote on it again to adopt

   Gov. Charlie Baker made it official last week that any of the 50 members of the Annual Town Meeting can submit non-bind resolutions not less than 48 hours prior to the Town Meeting.

   But, to make it official, the Town Meeting has to approve the measure – which it approved unanimously during a Special Town Meeting back in June 2019 by a 36-0 vote.

   That resolution, which crawled through the Legislature at a snail’s pace – influenced in part by the outbreak of COVID-19 – and stalled with the response of the 50-member chamber to a controversy over resolutions.

   During the opening night of the 2019 May Annual Town Meeting, Town Moderator Stephen N. Doherty said he didn’t believe Town Meeting should be discussing a member’s non-binding resolution to support school custodians.

   Additionally, he said that the resolution initiated at that time by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member Ronald M. Wallace — or any resolution brought forward by a Town Meeting member — should be included on the warrant in order to be considered during Town Meeting proceedings.

   “My main problem is that I don’t believe it’s in our purview to even discuss this,” Doherty later told The Saugus Advocate.

   “We don’t vote on line items in the budget. So, we don’t have a reason to put this for discussion on the warrant. I’m not sure this is appropriate to vote on,” he said.

   But Robert J. Long — a former town moderator who served in that post during 18 of his 34 years as a Town Meeting member — said he believed a bad precedent was set Wallace was not allowed to present his resolution.

   “The way we have always conducted the meeting, a resolution can be raised at any time by any member of the body and brought before the body,” Long said in an interview.

   “There’s nothing that prevents — nor should there be anything to prevent raising a resolution. It’s the one way Town Meeting is a democracy,” Long said.

   Finally, last week, the governor essentially put the question of resolutions to rest, by authorizing the Saugus Town Meeting “to adopt a process to allow non-binding resolutions.”

   It’s sort of redundant to return it back to the Saugus Town Meeting for a vote. But, that’s Massachusetts politics. They don’t mind adding some process and make things bureaucratic to satisfy somebody’s concerns.

   And if the Town Meeting again votes overwhelmingly in favor of the act passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, any Town Meeting member would be allowed to propose a non-binding resolution for consideration by Town Meeting by submitting a written or electronic notice to the Town Clerk not less than 48 hours prior to The Town Meeting, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

   Under the act signed by the governor, the town clerk must notify the town moderator upon receipt of the non binding resolution.

   The June 2019 Special Town Meeting turned out to be a preview of things to come – confirming what Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian had argued all along. It was also a strong vindication of what they argued for – a very Democratic process.

   Before the Special Town Meeting vote, Town Counsel John Vasapolli told members that he still didn’t feel comfortable with members considering non-binding resolutions that aren’t on the warrant.

   Vasapolli advised members that no action of a Town Meeting is valid unless it first appears on the warrant.

   But, in the end that didn’t bother Town Meeting members who voted 36-0 for the new measure that allows any member to submit a non binding resolution within 48 hours.

   “Stop the nonsense one and for all,” former Town Moderator Bob Long told the 50-member body.

   Long took the position that resolutions have been introduced for decades on the floor of Saugus Town Hall without a need to require they appear on Town Meeting warrant.

   “This nonsense of whether it should be on the warrant or not really is that (nonsense),” Long said. He added that anyone knowledgeable or Roberts Rules of Order would have no problem understanding why resolutions should be permitted without having to put them on the warrant.

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