Friday, June 8, 2001
Moderator and selectmen recap Town Meeting
Calling the May 14 Town Meeting discussion of the two overrides for the Carlisle (CPS) and Concord Carlisle High Schools (CCHS) "a bad moment," town moderator Sarah Brophy asked the selectmen for feedback on how to make budget presentations more easily understood. All were in agreement that this year's presentation caused confusion among attendees, with many voters at Town Meeting uncertain as to what they were voting for.
Overrides were confusing
Brophy offered that town counsel and the "Town Meeting Guide Book" had endorsed starting at the highest level of override and working down, but that this approach seemed to add to confusion. "It's intuitive to build up, not down," agreed selectman Vivian Chaput. She suggested that a base budget be accepted for each school, then the overrides be presented and voted on. She also pointed out that as there was no vote this year on baseline budgets, the schools would have had no fall-back level if neither override had passed.
Selectman Doug Stevenson, who presented a motion at Town Meeting to separate out the Carlisle School and CCHS overrides, pointed to a recommendation by the FinCom that overrides not be bundled in the future. Two override amounts were presented at Town Meeting, the difference residing in money for CCHS (CPS got the same amount with either override). Selectman Tim Hult defended the bundling as "more straightforward" since voters at the ballot box can see at a glance the total override impact. He added that bundling avoids "pitting one (school) versus the other."
Voters sent a message
Stevenson also passed on information that the FinCom had discussed whether, since the difference between the two override levels was only about $40,000, "we caused more confusion for a small amount of money." He pointed out the $40,000 was significant, however, because the potential for multiple matching with Concord could result in $200,000 to the high school. Hult, a former Carlisle School Committee member, pointed to the lack of cooperation from the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee on the budget and added, "the only way to make a point [that the town is unhappy] is to give them less money." Several selectmen nodded as Chaput, speaking of the defeat of the higher override at the ballot, said "this may have been the best outcome."
Beyond the structure of the overrides, selectman John Ballantine suggested presentations should be more informative. "The FinCom should be prepared to present and explain the budget and the school committees should offer support of the override." Town administrator Madonna McKenzie suggested that overhead slides would have helped understanding. It was also problematic that delays in getting information from the regional school committee resulted in inaccurate numbers in the Warrant book.
Close votes merit recounts
Turning to the controversial article 23 for changes to wetlands bylaws, Hult expressed discomfort that there was no recount on a motion which was defeated by only two votes. He suggested a recount should be automatic when the vote is that close. A move would have to be made immediately to "close the doors" to prevent voters from leaving, a circumstance that prevented a fair recount this time.
In summary, Brophy characterized her first term as moderator as a learning experience. "I certainly learned to spend more time preparing for the budget discussion; I spent most of my run-through on the Warrant articles." Also, an experiment with a mock Town Meeting, this year held the night before the real one, holds promise. Brophy will encourage higher participation in future mock meetings so that presenters, particularly first-timers, can get feedback and become comfortable before the "big night." she added, "I know the first time I spoke from the floor of the Town Meeting my hands were shaking."
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