Town Meeting Primer –What to Expect at Your First Town Meeting

What to expect at your first time meeting.-2

April 10, 2019 by Carol Britton Meyer

Never attended a Town Meeting here in Hingham? Then this is the year to make it happen. Every vote counts!

Longtime former Town Moderator Tom O'Donnell referred to Town Meeting as "a journey through the warrant articles." Not only is this meeting an opportunity to vote on issues that are important to you, it's also a chance to greet friends and neighbors while waiting for the meeting to begin and to learn something about town government and the role each of us plays in it.

And while you're waiting, we suggest you also consider filling out the talent bank application on page 94 of the warrant as a possible volunteer on a town committee or board to extend your participation in your town government beyond taking part in Town Meeting this year.

Be sure to bring your warrant containing the agenda. A copy was mailed to every household recently (it's a neon green booklet).

Enjoy your first Town Meeting!

Here's our guide for first-time Town Meeting participants:

What is Town Meeting:  Our town government’s legislative body that appropriates monies to be expended by the town, adopts laws such as zoning and general bylaws, and sets public policy.

Who leads the meeting: Town Moderator Michael Puzo

Location: Hingham High School, 17 Union St.

Date: Monday,  April 22; continued to Tuesday, April 23, if necessary to cover all the agenda items. If a third meeting is required, it will be held on the following Monday.

Time:  7 p.m. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m. rather than the usual 6:30 p.m. due to the expected large-than-usual turnout -- to check in early and to get a good seat.

Where to enter: On the Union Street side, the main entrance near the auditorium -- for voters only -- or the Second Union Street entrance (far parking lot, heading down toward the playing fields)  –  for guests only -- except that anyone with physical disabilities is encouraged to enter at the rear of building via Pleasant Street for easier access, with convenient reserved parking. (See parking info below.)

Where the meeting will be held once inside the High School:  The gym is the first place to go to be seated. Because of the expected large crowd due to the proposed water acquisition issue, the auditorium will also be available as well as the cafeteria and three over-sized classrooms. A sound system connects these rooms, and a video system connects the gymnasium and auditorium.

What will happen if the number of citizens showing up exceeds the maximum occupancy capacity of the high school: At this time town officials expect to be able to accommodate a larger-than-typical meeting at multiple venues within the High School. That would be plus or minus 3,250 people, according to the Town Moderator. While attendance isn't expected to exceed that capacity, the town is prepared to use the Middle School Auditorium in the unlikely event that happens. Those 700 additional seats would bring the total available seats to 3,950.

Who can attend and vote: Registered Hingham voters. If you did not register  by the April 2 deadline you can call the Selectmen's office, (781) 741-1400 and ask to be placed on the guest list. That done, you can attend but not vote. However, guests -- including those from out-of-town -- may be granted permission to address the meeting by majority vote.

Number of registered voters: 17,569.

How to check in:  To enter the meeting give your name and address to the first available checker when you enter the building. They have a list of registered voters by precinct and will check the names on a computerized system.

Required quorum: 300 to start the meeting; 200 to convene the second or any subsequent session. The meeting will not be called to order until a quorum is reached.

Projected turnout: Higher than the usual 800 or less. The town is prepared to accommodate up to 3,950 attendees.

Can children attend with their parents: While non-voters can be admitted as "guests of the meeting," that has not traditionally included children. Given the large turnout expected, Town Moderator Michael Puzo said most or all of the available seating will be needed to accommodate Hingham voters. There are no plans to offer childcare at this time.

Number of articles: 45.

Details of the Fiscal Year 2020 town budget: $111.7 million, including $55.3 million for the schools.

What article(s) are expected to draw the most attention:  The four related to the proposed acquisition of the water system (#10-13 on the agenda); the Foster School article related to funding for major maintenance needs, and the proposed ban on single-use plastic bags.

Speaking rules: You must be a registered voter. If you wish to speak, rise and seek the attention of the moderator.

Time limits: Six minutes the first time on a given question and three minutes the second time on the same question.  No one may speak more than twice on any question except under certain circumstances outlined by the Town Moderator.

Voting procedures: All votes are taken first as voice votes and called by the moderator.  If the moderator is in doubt or seven voters rise to question the moderator’s call, then a standing vote is taken, unless either the Advisory Committee or 50 voters promptly call for a paper ballot vote, in which case a ballot vote, and not a standing vote, will be taken.

There have been paper ballot votes at two Annual Town Meetings going back to 2000 and at two Special Town Meetings:

* 2009: Special: Naming East School
* 2010: Zoning Recreation Field Overlay District (Ward Street fields)
* 2011:  Special - Vote on new Middle School project
* 2013: High School turf field project

How many votes are required to pass an article: Most articles require a majority vote to pass, while ones involving a borrowing require a two-thirds vote, as is the case with the water company acquisition article.

Can I leave the meeting after the article(s) I am interested in are addressed: Yes, but participation in the entire meeting is encouraged to ensure a continuing quorum and full voter participation in the discussion and vote on important issues that affect our lives.

How long does Town Meeting usually last: The meeting can last until 11 p.m. or later if business is wrapped up in one night. Otherwise, when the hour is getting late and there are enough warrant articles left to be considered in another session, the meeting can end at a more reasonable hour.  That decision is up to the Town Moderator.

How is it decided when the meeting will end: If the Town Moderator thinks business can wrap up in one night, the meeting could run later than usual to avoid calling a second session. Otherwise there's a motion to adjourn the meeting to the next day and for a third session, the following Monday.

Parking:  Available in the school and remote parking lots. However, since these fill up fast, a continuous shuttle service to and from the high school will be offered starting at 5:30 p.m. from the South Shore Baptist Church parking lot at 578 Main St. at the corner of Main and Free streets. Return trips are offered as needed. Voters are encouraged to use this service.

How to prepare for Town Meeting: Carefully review the Town Meeting procedures on pages 3 and 4 (including information pertaining to reconsideration of a vote -- page 4) and the warrant article details and the Advisory Committee's recommendations for each in order to be an informed voter. Town Meeting has the final say on every article.

Further info: Visit the Hingham League of Women Voters' Citizen's Guide to Hingham Open Town Meeting 

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