A freedom of speech discussion proves precious and priceless as members vote to enhance that right
Town Meeting members breezed through 11 articles – many of them financial – in unanimously approving them in rapid fashion on Monday (May 8) night. But members showed they value the concept of democracy as the cornerstone of the New England Town Meeting as precious and priceless as they took more than an hour debating the final two articles, which still passed by large margins:
Article 18, which, while controversial, passed by a 36-1 margin, guarantees that Town Meeting members get to introduce nonbinding resolutions with 48 hours’ notice.
Article 19, which prevailed on a 32-6 vote, virtually guarantees that everyone who wants to address Town Meeting gets an opportunity to speak no matter how long it takes.
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian, who authored both articles, led the charge by passing out photocopies of a Norman Rockwell painting from his “Four Freedoms” series depicting a man standing up at a Town Meeting exercising his right to free speech.
“You might not like what they have to say, but they should have a right to say it,” Manoogian said of Article 19, which would require a nine/tenths vote of Town Meeting to “call the question” and end debate on articles if the moderator determines there are Saugus residents in the audience who want to express themselves on matters being discussed.
“It sets the threshold high for our citizens to speak,” Precinct 3 Town Meeting Member Rick Smith said.
“Every voice matters no matter what side of the aisle…By passing this, it provides an open door policy. Let’s prevent people’s democracy being stolen,” he said.
“Democracy is a participatory sport,” Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Martin Costello said.
“If it wasn’t, it doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.
Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member William S. Brown argued “that it doesn’t make sense to go to a nine/tenths requirement” to call the question.
“Two-thirds margin is hard enough to get,” he said.
Brown, who was one of six members voting against Article 19 and the lone dissenter on Article 18, predicted that passage of the article would lead to longer discussions at Town Meetings. Matters that take two to three meetings would now take four meetings, he predicted. “At some point, we have to say enough is enough,” Brown said.
“I think you ought to plan on spending a lot of time on other articles. We have to move along at some point,” he said.
But former Town Meeting Member Andrew Whitcomb, from Precinct 4, declared “I think Town Meeting has a responsibility to hear from its residents.”
“It shorts out 48 hour notice by 11 hours,” Brown said, suggesting that resolutions submitted on Thursday evening after the Town Clerk’s Office closes wouldn’t get adequate notice.
But Manoogian noted that the 48-hour notice is the same procedure used under the state Open Meeting Law. “By not supporting this, you’re saying we don’t have the need to express ourselves,” he said.