One Issue Wonders

31May12

Every time a special interest group manages to pack Town Meeting to ram their pet measure through, local government geeks find themselves wondering if there will be some long-term residual benefit, some lasting silver lining to this cynical exercise.

Surely, they imagine, out of this great mass of people here to vote on their one and only issue, a few dozen – or maybe even a hundred – will find themselves so taken with this grass roots form of democracy that they will become regular attendees and participants at Town Meeting.

Hope springs eternal, as they say.

A recent example occurred on Monday, May 14, in Wakefield, Massachusaetts. “Galvinize Wakefield,” the group pushing a debt exclusion for the purpose of building a new Middle School, packed Town Meeting with over 1,330 supporters.

Alas, by the following Monday, May 21, the Galvinizers’ passion for the purest form of democracy had apparently waned, as the vast majority of them stayed home, leaving the usual 166 regulars to deal with the remainder of the Town Meeting warrant. They want you to care deeply about their single issue. But when it comes to the other articles of business on the Town Meeting warrant, they really can’t be bothered.

It would be fascinating to see a demographic analysis of the Town Meeting attendance on May 14. By their own admission, the Galvinize Wakefield group has been targeting parents of school age children, and this demographic certainly was well-represented at the May 14 Town Meeting session. I wonder if they would consider their own votes that night to be as self-interested as, say, someone on a fixed income who votes against the debt exclusion to keep his taxes from rising.

At this writing, there are nine days to go before the June 9 Debt Exclusion Election, and Galvinization Nation will be pulling out all the stops. The same folks who tried to slip Article 5 (the Galvin measure) through Town Meeting without a word of discussion will be phoning Wakefield voters at home between now and the election and reading from a script designed to “capture” commitments to vote “yes” for a debt exclusion and a new Galvin Middle School.

Remember, this is not a normal Tuesday election and you won’t be voting at your normal neighborhood precinct polling place. This critical election has been scheduled for a Saturday and everybody will be voting in one location, which just happens to be a school.

About 8 percent of Wakefield’s registered voters packed Town Meeting on May 14 and got the Galvin debt exclusion question on the ballot. But on June 9, every single Wakefield voter will get to have his say.

Whatever else you do that day, make sure you find a few minutes to get to the Wakefield High School Field House and vote.

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One Response to “One Issue Wonders”

  1. 1 Mike Conley

    Excellent column Mark. I don’t think we have to worry about room to accommodate folks at the next Town Meeting. We offered a solution once to increase participation at Town Meeting, the Lottery system for taking Articles in random order by drawing numbered balls out of a hat. Alas, they sponsored an Article to eliminate it, packed Town Meeting and voted it out, they found it to inconvenient…I have always been struck by the irony of it:)


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