To the Editor:
I’m sure I was not alone when I left Hull’s annual town meeting (ATM) being quite frustrated by the proceedings. The more I thought about it, the more I felt it might be worth sharing my thoughts/suggestions in hope of improving the process for the future. Three things that were evident from this year’s ATM:
- Bringing zoning changes via citizen’s petition is really not the appropriate process. Zoning changes that might affect a number of properties should be fully vetted through the Zoning Board, Planning Board, and Zoning Review Bylaw Committee so the full understanding of the potential consequences and public outreach can be made before bylaws that will affect the present and future generations are voted on. When one section of the zoning bylaw is changed, you need to make sure how it impacts other sections as well, which is why the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee should be involved. These boards represent all the citizens of Hull so that zoning changes can be looked at from an overall perspective regarding the short-term and potential long-term consequences.
- Budget requests should be made prior to town meeting when they can be fully and fairly vetted by the Advisory Board with all the budget items being requested. Some guidance as to the budget request process, the budget review process, and the timelines involved might be helpful for citizens to more fully understand the process.
- Citizen’s petitions are misused and misunderstood.
Maybe it is time for the moderator, Advisory Committee, and Select Board and/or perhaps the Attorney General’s Office (Division of Open Government) to give a “tutorial” or workshop in the early fall on the appropriate processes for an improved understanding of the following:
- How to bring articles (including zoning requests, budget requests, and CPA requests), to town meeting. It should include information about how to begin the process, how an article might typically work its way through the review process, and the time frames to keep in mind.
- Citizen’s petitions – the appropriateness of them versus following the more traditional processes; how the timing of filing a citizen’s petition may trigger a special town meeting (and the costs involved if a town meeting is not already scheduled); and the different requirements regarding the number of signatures involved regarding citizen’s petitions filed before a scheduled annual town meeting or a special town meeting. What is involved should a proponent wish to “withdraw” or amend a citizen’s petition.
(Mr. Dunn said he was told, “He could not withdraw his citizen’s petition.” I’m willing to bet that is not exactly what he was told. He was likely told that in order to withdraw the citizen’s petition it would be necessary for another petition signed by those who had signed the original one requesting its withdrawal (or amendment). As those citizens had signed the petition in good faith, expecting it to go forward with sufficient signatures, likewise a withdrawal or amendments must be submitted by the petitioning signators.)
- The Open Meeting Law. While I’m sure the recent letter to the editor submitted by Bill Smythe was a well-intentioned attempt to help educate people, there is a problem when edited versions of the OML are given, as they don’t always interpret the OML correctly.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I did think the ATM was very efficiently run, given the more difficult logistics; the moderator, IT director, and town clerk and registrars are to be commended for that. Having said that, I do feel a lot of time, misunderstandings, and false accusations/hurt feelings could have been saved. If you agree, then please let your elected town officials know.
C. Anne Murray