The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 19, 2002


Advice for Town Meeting: excerpts from Concord's traditions and procedures

Rules for debate

The Meeting expects vigorous and pointed debate, directed to the precise subject which is under consideration. Lengthy, rambling discourse serves no purpose and wastes the time of the Meeting. Attack on the personality or motive of another person is never permissible.

Parliamentary maneuvering to prevent an opposing view from being heard is always discouraged. Within the general framework of our parliamentary procedures, the goal of the Moderator is basic fairness in the consideration of issues before the Meeting. This does not mean that everyone who wishes to speak will be heard: when the Meeting decides that it has heard enough discussion and is ready to vote, debate must end.

Articles, motions and amendments

The voter should have a copy of the Warrant . . . as well as separate copies of motions which are available in the lobby at the entrance to the hall. The Warrant is the official agenda for the Meeting and . . . contains all articles . . . together with such recommendations to the Town as were available from the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen at the time of going to press.

Frequently it happens that the wording of a motion differs from the wording of an article. The wording of the article must be settled prior to the close of the Warrant, which is generally [some time] before the Annual Town Meeting . . . A board or individual petitioner presenting the article may choose to refine the wording or reduce the coverage of the action to be requested at the Town Meeting. The Moderator will not allow any expansion of the intent of the article since the voters must be properly warned in advance of actions they may be asked to approve . . . It is often difficult to arrive at final wording of a motion in advance of the Meeting.

Dollar amounts for an appropriation may depend on actions taken under earlier articles. There is always the possibility of amendments to a motion prior to final action . . .

Differences between the wording of an article and of a motion made under it can result in confusion for the voter . . . The Moderator reads the motion prior to the vote, and will endeavor to make clear what it is that the voters are asked to vote on.

If a voter wishes to change a motion in some fashion, the procedure is to amend the motion. All motions to amend must be in writing and must state exactly what change is to be made in the motion. The amendment must be in writing so that the Moderator can know exactly what it is the voter wants to do before ruling on the motion or putting it to a vote . . . The Moderator will rule out of order any motion to amend which changes the original motion so that, in the Moderator's opinion, the motion is no longer within the scope of the article.

Time for debate

Some articles in the Warrant for the Town Meeting are likely to be controversial and require considerable deliberation before they are acted on. Nevertheless, there comes a point in the deliberation when little (if any) new light is being shed on the subject. When that appears to be the case, it has been the custom of Moderators in Concord to remind the Meeting of the length of time already devoted to the deliberation, and to encourage those still wishing to be heard to limit their remarks to points not already made. Frequently such a reminder is effective in bringing the issue to a prompt vote, but if not, debate can be terminated by a motion for "the previous question". This motion may be made only by a person recognized by the Moderator, and may not interrupt a speaker who already has the floor. A motion to terminate debate must be seconded, and requires a two-thirds vote for passage. It may not be debated, amended, or reconsidered.

A voter who moves "the previous question" must do just that and no more. The mover may not first offer views on the substance of the main motion, and then seek to foreclose debate by others.

The full document may be found at

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito