TOWN MEETING GUIDE
What rules govern Town Meeting?
In Goshen, the Moderator guides his actions by the parliamentary handbook used by most Massachusetts Moderators known as “Town Meeting Time” and the Massachusetts General Laws which are supplemented by “Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.”
Who may speak at Town Meeting?
All of the town's registered voters, residents and taxpayers may speak on any article in the warrant. Persons who are not voters, residents or taxpayers of the town may address the Town Meeting only with the consent of a majority of those present. If you wish to speak, raise your hand and wait for the moderator to acknowledge you. When the Moderator acknowledges you, state your name and address. Speak about the topic being discussed. Don't speak about a previous topic (unless there is a motion to rescind or reconsider). Make your comments through the moderator, not directly to the Town Meeting.
Conduct of Speakers
Every person when about to speak shall rise, respectfully address the Moderator and wait until recognized by the Moderator, and in speaking shall address all comments to the Moderator, shall confine him/herself to the question under consideration and avoid personal attacks, inappropriate language, or uncivil conduct of any type. The Moderator may cut off any speaker who fails to adhere to this code of conduct. No person shall address the meeting without first being recognized by the Moderator and all persons shall, at the request of the Moderator, be silent.
Equal Opportunity for Debate
Unless otherwise approved by the Moderator,
a. no person shall speak more than twice on any motion except to correct a mistake or misstatement, or to answer a question, or to raise a Point of Order (unless the maker of the motion is answering relevant questions);
b. no person shall speak more than five minutes the first time they speak on any article and
no person may yield their speaking time to another person; and
c. except to answer a question or to raise a Point of Order, no person shall speak for a second time on any motion until all persons wishing to speak for a first time on that motion have been recognized. Any persons who desire to make lengthy presentations or use audio-visual aids are required to disclose such intentions to the Moderator not less than one week prior to the Town Meeting.
Speaking by Non-Voters
Unless approved by the Moderator, non-voters shall not address Town Meeting except as follows:
- A full-time employee who is a Department Head or who is the designated spokesman of a Department Head may address the Town Meeting prior to any action on any article which has been sponsored by or directly affects his/her department notwithstanding his or her domicile or citizenship.
- A consultant or other expert retained by a department, board, commission, committee or elected official may address the Town Meeting prior to any action on any article related to the service performed by said consultant or other expert notwithstanding his/her domicile or citizenship.
- Any appointed commission, board or committee member, may address the Town Meeting prior to any action on any article which has been sponsored by or directly affects his/her commission, board or committee, notwithstanding his/her domicile or citizenship.
Any motion to move the question or cut off debate shall require a two-thirds vote and is not debatable or amendable. Acceptance of this motion is in the sole discretion of the Moderator, except the Moderator may refuse to accept a motion to move the question or cut off debate
when made by a speaker after said speaker has made any remarks concerning the merits of the question then pending or if the Moderator deems the motion to be premature.
Voting Procedures at Town Meeting
When a two-thirds (2/3) vote of town meeting is required by statute, the Moderator shall make public declaration of the vote and a count need not be taken. The Moderator will count the vote any time it appears that a voice vote is too close to call. If any vote declared is immediately questioned by seven (7) or more voters, the Moderator shall verify it by polling the voters.
The Finance Committee shall provide the Town Clerk all main motions in writing, or electronically, 24 hours before any Annual or Special Town Meeting, excepting only motions that are still under review or pending advice from Town Counsel. All other motions, including, but not limited to, Motions to Amend a previous Motion, shall be submitted in writing, unless otherwise allowed by the Moderator. A motion may be withdrawn by the mover. No motion to dissolve a Town Meeting shall be in order until every article in the Warrant has been duly acted upon at the meeting.
Motions to Reconsider
At any Annual or Special Town Meeting or adjournment thereof, a motion to reconsider any article on the Warrant may be made only once and must be made within two articles and at the same session on which the article was voted.
DEFINITIONS OF SOME TERMS USED AT TOWN MEETING
Budget - Financial plan for the fiscal year of proposed expenditures and proposed means of financing them.
Fiscal Year - The town fiscal year for the proposed budget begins on July 1 and ends on June 30.
Levy Limit - Under Proposition 2 1/2 the maximum amount that the town can raise in property taxes is 2-½% more than the maximum it was allowed to raise for the prior fiscal year plus adjustment for growth.
Free Cash - The amount of surplus revenue not spent from previous fiscal year over and above uncollected taxes that is certified by the State. It is available for appropriation by Town Meeting.
Reserve Fund - The fund established by Town Meeting for extraordinary or unforeseen expenditures. Transfers from fund need to be approved by the Finance Committee.
Cherry Sheet - Named for the color of the paper traditionally printed on, details the estimated State aid to be received by the Town.
2 1/2 Override - A referendum procedure in which the Town can vote to permanently increase its levy limit.
Capital Exclusion - A referendum procedure in which the Town can vote to collect property taxes in excess of its levy limit to pay for a specified period of time.
Debt Exclusion - A referendum procedure in which the Town can vote to collect property taxes in excess of its levy limit to pay for a specific expenditure (usually for a specific time period).
Majority Vote - A vote of one half plus one of the Town Meeting Members present to pass an article.
2/3rds Majority Vote - The appropriation of money requires a vote of 2/3rds of the Town Meeting Members present to pass an article.
Declared Vote - The Moderator may decide the sense of Town Meeting by a voice vote. If seven or more members question the vote immediately, the Moderator will ask for a standing vote and declare the counted vote as final.
Unanimous Vote - A vote of all the Town Meeting Members present.
Move the Question - A motion to vote to end debate on a pending motion. May not be preceded by an opinion on the motion by the maker.
Reconsideration - To introduce new information that may change the vote of an article that has already been voted upon.
Point of Order - A question directed to the Moderator concerning a procedure of the meeting.
GUIDELINES FOR MAKING PRESENTATIONS
Preparations for the Meeting
If you are going to be the lead speaker on an article, be sure that the Moderator knows this well in advance.
In readying your presentation, remember the "three P's": Prepare... Prepare... and Prepare. You probably know your reasons for supporting the motion very well. Make sure you also know and understand the strongest arguments against what you are proposing so that you can address them, either directly or indirectly.
Rehearse your material until you are completely at ease with it. Present it to a group of friends or co-workers, and consider their suggestions. Ask your trial audience to think of tough questions.
Try answering them on your feet.
If you wish to use visual aids such as a PowerPoint presentation, please contact the Moderator well in advance. You MUST submit a copy of the presentation to the Moderator not less than a week in advance. The purposes for the advance submission and review by the Moderator are to help ensure clarity of the presentation and to avoid logistical problems on the floor of Town Meeting.
If you need to put detailed language or numbers before people, have it prepared as a handout and place it on the tables on the stage or in the rear of the Town Hall 30-45 minutes before the session starts. Mark your material plainly with the article number. You should provide a minimum of 50 copies; 100 is safer if attendance is expected to be large.
It’s Time for Your Article
When your article comes up, the Moderator will say, for example, "Article 18 relates to the acquisition of a new vehicle for the Fire Department. May I have a motion, please?" You rise and are recognized.
To save meeting time come to the front of the auditorium before your article is called, so that you can begin speaking as soon as your turn arrives. After giving your name and street, you state your motion.
In stating your motion, you have choices: If the motion is reasonable short, such as the preceding fire truck example, just go ahead and read it verbatim when called upon by the Moderator. If the motion is very long, such as a multipage zoning by-law, then it is sufficient to say, as your motion, "I move the article as printed in the motion handout.”
If your motion is in-between in length, you can choose either approach.
Pause at that point.
The Moderator will ask for a second, and the Moderator and Clerk will verify that all is in order. The Moderator will then offer you an opportunity to speak on behalf of your motion, before the floor is opened for general discussion. Note that a second is REQUIRED to continue with the article.
A brief, well-prepared presentation is much more effective than a rambling dissertation. Historically, the amount of time presenters are given at Goshen Town Meetings has not been limited. However, articles that are expected to draw active debate may be put under time limitations by the Town Moderator prior to opening up the floor to that debate. The guideline debate limitations will be as follows: Proponents will be given five minutes total. If more than one person from a group is expected to speak, the total time should not exceed five minutes. Speakers from the floor will be given three minutes each. If the topic is especially complex and you feel that you will be unable to do it justice in five minutes, you may contact the Moderator in advance and ask that he exercise his discretion to permit more time. Be forewarned that the Moderator expects to use this power sparingly.
Naturally, you know more about your subject than you can possibly cover in five minutes. But you are not there to tell people everything you know. The voters can and will make up their minds on the strength of far less than that, and it can actually be counterproductive to go on at length. Your original message gets lost, and in all the detail you are providing, voters will likely find one thing or another that they don’t understand or that troubles them. Don’t forget, you may speak a second time after you have heard some reaction to your proposal; this will give you a chance to focus your comments and address whatever may have emerged as troublesome issues.
Some people can memorize a speech. Others write their speech, and read it verbatim. Do this only if you must; it is very hard to read a speech and have it sound genuine, even though you mean every single word. For most of us, the following combination works best.
First, know exactly what you are going to say for your opening sentences, rehearse them until you can say them easily, and have them written out and handy. Begin your message positively, clearly, and emphatically. Next, work from an outline of key phrases. Speak conversationally and explain your ideas just as you would to a group of friends. (This, after all, is what you are doing.) Finally, know exactly the words with which you are going to wind up your speech; rehearse them, and have them available. Finish with a good summary and a friendly but clear request for support.
People remember most what you say first and what you say last, so be sure you get the heart of your message into your opening and your closing. Let the Moderator know that your presentation is complete.
Discussion, Questions and Answers
At meetings in a business setting, presenters typically complete their remarks, then ask if there are any questions, and proceed to call on people who wish to raise issues, comment, or ask questions. This is not how it works at our Town Meeting. The Moderator recognizes all speakers, and after you speak, will ask appropriate town boards or officers to comment on your motion, before going to discussion from the floor.
Bear the following in mind when general discussion does begin. Any questions that citizens may have will be directed to the Moderator, not to you. The Moderator will exercise his discretion whether and when to ask you to respond to a question or questions from the floor. In general, the Moderator tries to see that factual questions that help voters understand the issue do get answered, but may not ask you to answer questions that are argumentative or irrelevant.
Town Meeting is not a court of law, and you are not under cross examination. If the Moderator believes the question should be answered, he will ask you to speak to it. If someone else on your team is better suited to answer the question, ask that your colleague respond. If you need more time to think, or need to consult a reference, or talk to a colleague, then do so. If you get called on anyway, simply say, "I need a moment to think about that" or words to that effect. If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply respond "I don't know," with or without a brief explanation of why you don't. While some may express disappointment, saying that you don't know is far preferable to guessing. In terms of responding to issues and arguments, the Moderator will generally only allow you to speak on your own initiative until others who have not spoken on the question have spoken if they desire. Therefore, after your initial presentation, you should not count on speaking more than once. Keep track of things that you want to rebut, and ask to speak again when you have a sense of how things are going and can speak to several issues at once.
Conclude with another brief summary statement and request for support. Don’t wait too long, though, because if a motion to close debate is made, accepted, and voted favorably, that will end all discussions even though you may not have had a chance to speak a second time.