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Independent Thoughts: Has time come to change Town Meeting format?

by | May 19, 2022 | Featured, Featured: Features

Town Meeting

Town Meeting lasted three days and was delayed multiple times due to the lack of a quorum. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

First the positive: This month’s Town Meeting ran very smoothly. Voters moved through the 53 articles on the warrant quickly. Take out the budget, which — deservedly so — took about an hour to review and discuss, and the other articles averaged about five minutes each from start to finish.

Now, the bad news: Town Meeting took three nights to complete and was delayed multiple times due to the fact that there were not enough voters in attendance at the Hopkinton High School Athletic Center.

The struggles to reach and maintain a quorum — 128, just 1 percent of the town’s registered voters — is not a new problem, of course. And with no controversial articles on the warrant, it was obvious to anyone who has been through this process that the numbers would be low.

Perhaps it’s time to switch to a representative Town Meeting, where each precinct elects a limited number of residents, who then are the only ones who vote. Residents still could attend Town Meeting and express their opinions during public comment, and some articles would require additional support at Town Election, as was the case this year, so residents would not be completely shut out from the process.

Town Clerk Connor Degan said this would require a change of the town’s charter, either via a normal charter review (set to occur next in 2026) or via a citizen’s petition if a town board — in this case the Select Board — did not carry it forward.

“Personally, I like open Town Meeting because I know I can go to it and make my opinion known and vote on it,” Degan said when asked for his thoughts. “But that only works if people show up. So I get it. I don’t really have a strong opinion. I like open Town Meeting. I know people who said when they experience one that they prefer the other — on both sides of it.”

Select Board Member Muriel Kramer said this year’s event might have been affected by people feeling uncomfortable attending a large indoor meeting due to COVID concerns. She also said moving Town Meeting to the weekend might be worth consideration.

“We have often sort of wrestled with ways to make it more accessible,” Kramer said. “I know I fielded a few questions this year from parents of young children. I think it might be time to talk and engage with the town generally. Perhaps trying different meeting times. We have tried the weekend before — we did that during COVID as well, when we were all outside. It’s always difficult for parents of young children, and it’s often difficult for seniors and those who don’t like to drive at night. And it’s late. So I think it’s worth having a conversation.

“There are towns that hold it on Saturdays, and sometimes those towns also support Town Meeting by not having sporting events on those Saturdays. Because, as we know, Saturdays would be difficult for more parents during the playing season as well. But yes, it would be very nice to see more participation or explore ways to increase participation, of course.”

The lack of a hot-button issue also diminished interest. Normally there is at least one topic — a new school, a sports field, an environmental concern — that draws in voters.

“People do come out when there is something of particular importance for them,” Kramer acknowledged. “But there was nothing particularly controversial [this year]. Sometimes people come out in force and then, unfortunately, as soon as their article is addressed, they very often leave.”

Also worth noting is the fact that the town still has numerous openings on boards and committees, awaiting volunteers to step up and become more involved.

It’s not to say we are worse off than any other community, and there are plenty of people who have committed their time and energy to help run the town.

“I think that we actually have a pretty engaged public,” Kramer said. “We have an awful lot of volunteers. If we still have openings it’s certainly something that any one of us [on the Select Board] would be happy to engage with and encourage people to consider the different openings. We’re better for all of the volunteers that we enjoy in this town, for sure.”

Garden Club blossoms

As would be expected, spring is an especially busy time of year for the Hopkinton Garden Club.

The club’s annual Spring Plant Sale was held at the Town Common on May 7.

“Many thanks to those who perused a fabulous selection on such a chilly and blustery day and purchased plants!” HGC President Ann Hussey Hogaboom shared. “We truly love to talk about and share our love of gardening with our community.”

Purchases and donations help support the club’s community service programs, including planting sites around town, presentations, scholarships and more.

Hogaboom also extended thanks to small businesses that generously donated plant materials for the sale, including Angel’s Garden Center, Hopkinton Stone and Garden, and Weston Nurseries.

The Garden Club (hopkintongardenclub.org) normally has meetings on the third Tuesday of the month but now is off until September, when it will start a new Speaker Series, which is free and open to the public.

The club also debuted a new Welcome to Hopkinton sign on West Main Street. The original wooden sign had rotted and collapsed in December. The new sign was completed last month, just in time for the Boston Marathon.

Project donors included Hopkinton Garden Club’s members and supporters of the club’s plant and greens sales, the Hopkinton Women’s Club, Tim Kilduff and the 26.2 Foundation, Scott Richardson of Gorman Richardson Lewis Architects, and former Hopkinton resident and lifetime Hopkinton Garden Club member Diane Bullock.

“We also extend thanks to Sign Right of Marlborough for constructing the sign so quickly, Peter Mezitt of Weston Nurseries for two beautiful mountain laurel shrubs, and Scott Dryden of Scott’s Landscaping for time and materials to replace the soil in the planting area,” added Hogaboom. “Thanks, too, to Hopkinton Garden Club member Kris MacPherson, who seamlessly coordinated the efforts to ensure the sign was up in time for the Marathon.”

K of C food drive delivers

The Bishop Rice Council (Ashland/Hopkinton) of the Knights of Columbus collected a ton of food during its recent Food for Families Food Drive.

That’s not hyperbole. The organization noted that the 90-plus bags of food, when totaled, weighed more than 2,000 pounds, which is, by definition, one ton.

The drive also netted $2,350 in donations. The money and food were delivered to the Hopkinton Food Pantry at Project Just Because.

The council offered thanks to the Hopkinton community for its “kindness and generosity.”

Sandy Lucchesi

RE/MAX Executive Realty Charitable Foundation President Sandy Lucchesi talks to the crowd while standing alongside comedian Paul Nardizzi during the organization’s fundraising event at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts on May 5.

RE/MAX comedy fundraiser a hit

The RE/MAX Executive Realty Charitable Foundation held a fundraiser comedy show May 5 at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts. The event was called Comedy for a Cause and was headlined by Boston-based comedian Paul Nardizzi.

“It was an incredibly fun and successful evening,” foundation President (and local real estate agent) Sandy Lucchesi shared. “We raised close to $18,000, which will allow us to continue our mission of ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ — helping families within our local communities.”