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Encyclopedia > Town Meeting

A town meeting is a meeting where an entire geographic area is invited to participate in a gathering, often for a political or administrative purpose. It may be to obtain community suggestions or feedback on public policies from government officials, or to cast legally binding votes on budgets and policy.

Contents

In the United States

Town meeting is a form of local government practiced in the U.S. region of New England, but rare elsewhere. Typically conducted by New England towns, town meeting can also refer to meetings of other governmental bodies, such as school districts or water districts. While the uses and laws vary from state to state, the general form is for residents of the town or school district to gather once a year and act as a legislative body, voting on operating budgets, laws and other matters for the community's operation over the following 12 months. Local governments are administrative offices of an area smaller than a state or province. ... The states marked in red show New England. ... The system of local government in use in New England is very different from that found throughout the rest of the United States. ... School districts are a form of special-purpose district in the United States (amongst some other places) which serves to operate the local public primary and secondary schools. ... A legislature is a governmental deliberative body with the power to adopt laws. ...


Its usage in the English language can also cause confusion. Town meeting is both an event, as in "Freetown had its town meeting last Tuesday" and an entity, as in "Last Tuesday, Town Meeting decided to repave Howland Road." Starting with Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in 1976, "town meeting" has also been used as a label for any moderated discussion group in which a large audience is invited, as in "John Kerry held a town meeting with voters to discuss issues in the upcoming election." To avoid confusion, this sort of event is often called a "town hall meeting." James Earl Jimmy Carter, Jr. ... Town Hall Meeting is a concept which originated in New England when everybody in the town showed up to speak their piece and then vote on an issue. ...


Connecticut

Connecticut shares the Town Meeting form of government used by many other New England communities. They differ from Massachusetts and the northern tier of states in being more tightly bound to the published agenda -- in Connecticut, the Town Meeting may discuss, but not alter, an article placed before them; nor may they place new items on the agenda. If a Town Meeting rejects a budget, a new Town Meeting must be called to consider the next proposed budget. State Law allows the Board of Selectmen to adopt an estimated tax rate and continue operating based on the previous budget in the event a Town Meeting hasn't adopted a new budget in time.


They also do not exercise the scope of legislative powers as is typically seen in Massachusetts; for example, while many Massachusetts towns adopt and modify Zoning regulations at Town Meeting, in Connecticut the Town Meeting would have "adopted zoning" as a concept for the town, however the actual writing and adopting of specific regulations fall to an elected Planning & Zoning Board created by the adoption of zoning.


A moderator is chosen at each meeting. Meetings are typically held in school auditoriums, however they may be moved to larger venues as needed. Town meetings can physically meet in another town if necessary to find a proper space to host the attendance; and they have been known to take advantage of a pleasant spring evening to adjourn outside to conduct business! Votes are taken by voice, and if close by show of hands. Meetings on controversial topics are often adjourned to a referendum conducted by machine vote on a date in the future. Such adjournment may come from the floor of the meeting, or by a petition for a paper or machine ballot filed before the meeting.


In towns with an Open Town Meeting, all registered voters of a town, and all persons owning at least $1,000 of taxable property, are eligible to participate in and vote at Town Meetings, with the exception of the election of officials. Representative Town Meetings used by some larger towns consist solely of a large number of members elected to office. Some towns utilize a so-called Financial Town Meeting, where the an Open Town Meeting exists with limited jurisdiction to only vote on financial affairs and the town's legislative powers have been vested in a Town Council.


Maine

In Maine, the town meeting system originates in the time before statehood, when Maine was a district of Massachusetts. Most cities and towns still operate under the town meeting form of government or a modified version of it. Maine annual town meetings traditionally have been held in March. Special town meetings also may be called from time to time. Official language(s) None (English de facto) Capital Augusta Largest city Portland Area  Ranked 39th  - Total 33,414 sq mi (86,542 km²)  - Width 210 miles (338 km)  - Length 320 miles (515 km)  - % water 13. ... Local government areas called districts are used, or have been used, in several countries. ... Official language(s) English Capital Boston Largest city Boston Area  Ranked 44th  - Total 10,555 sq mi (27,360 km²)  - Width 183 miles (295 km)  - Length 113 miles (182 km)  - % water 13. ...


The executive agency of town government is an elected, part-time board. known as the Board of Selectmen or Select Board, having three, five or seven members. Between sessions the board of selectmen interprets the policy set at Town Meeting and is assigned numerous duties including: approving all town non-school expenditures, authorizing highway construction and repair, serving as town purchasing agent for non-school items, issuing licenses and overseeing the conduct of all town activities. Often the part-time selectmen also serve as town assessors, overseers of the poor as well as road commissioners. Generally, there are other elected town officers whose duties are specified in law. These may include clerk, assessors, tax collector, treasurer, school committee, constables, and others. An election is a decision making process where people choose people to hold official offices. ... The Board of Selectmen is commonly the executive arm of town government in New England. ... Look up policy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... Category: ... It has been suggested that Licensing (strategic alliance) be merged into this article or section. ...


In 1927, the town of Camden adopted a special charter and became the first Maine town to apply the manager concept to the town meeting-selectmen framework. Under this system, the manager is administrative head of town government, responsible to the select board for the administration of all departments under its control. The manager's duties include acting as purchasing agent, seeing that laws and ordinances are enforced, making appointments and removals, and fixing the compensation of appointees. (See also: Council-manager government) Camden, Maine Camden is a town in Knox County, Maine, United States. ... Council-manager government - Wikipedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ... The council-manager government is one of two main variations of representative municipal government in the United States. ...


From 1927 to 1939, eleven other Maine towns adopted special act town meeting-selectmen-manager charters similar to the Camden charter. Today, 135 Maine towns have the town meeting-selectmen-manager system, while 209 use the town meeting-selectman system.


External links

Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Constitution (in Amendment LXXXIX, which governs the respective powers of municipalities and the state legislature) makes a distinction between a "city form of government" and a "town form of government". In recent years, a number of communities have chosen to adopt a home-rule charter under this Amendment which specifies a city form of government while keeping the style "Town of X," calling their legislative bodies "Town Council," and so on. (The Constitution does not require any specific nomenclature.) In special legislation, these places are sometimes described as "the city called the Town of X". The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the fundamental governing document of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. ... Devolution or Home rule is the pooling of powers from central government to government at regional or local level. ... A style of office, or honorific, is a form of address which by tradition or law precedes a reference to a person who holds a title or post, or to the political office itself. ... Special legislation (also called local legislation) is a legal term of art used in the United States which refers to acts of a state legislature which apply only to a specific municipality (or a group thereof) which is identified by name in the legislation. ...


The Town Meeting form of government is a mandatory part of being considered a town under state law; cities do not have town meetings. However, as noted, the official style of a city or town is defined in its charter, and there is no legal barrier to cities calling themselves "town" or vice versa. As a result, not all of the municipalities that are called towns have Town Meeting. (Only communities with a population of at least 12,000 may adopt a city form of government.)


Common practice distinguishes between a "town meeting" (with an article), which may refer to any such gathering, even if municipal business is not the subject, and "Town Meeting" (never an article), which always refers to the governing body of a town. An article is a word that is next to a noun or any word that modifies a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. ...


Two forms of Town Meeting government

A page from the May 3, 2004 Freetown, Mass. annual town meeting warrant.
A page from the May 3, 2004 Freetown, Mass. annual town meeting warrant.

Image File history File links Download high resolution version (598x668, 36 KB)Sample page from a Freetown, Massachusetts town meeting warrant. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (598x668, 36 KB)Sample page from a Freetown, Massachusetts town meeting warrant. ... May 3 is the 123rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (124th in leap years). ... 2004 (MMIV) was a leap year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Freetown is a town located in Bristol County, Massachusetts. ... Official language(s) English Capital Boston Largest city Boston Area  Ranked 44th  - Total 10,555 sq mi (27,360 km²)  - Width 183 miles (295 km)  - Length 113 miles (182 km)  - % water 13. ... Page from a town meeting warrant. ...

Open Town Meeting
Main article: Open Town Meeting

Open Town Meetings are required of Massachusetts towns with fewer than 6,000 residents and optional for those with 6,000 or more residents. The Board of Selectmen will call the town meeting by issuing the warrant, which is the list of items--known as articles--to be voted on, with descriptions of each article. The Moderator officiates the meeting by reading each article, explaining it, and making sure the rules of parliamentary procedure are followed. He/she interprets voice votes and counts other votes. The Finance Committee or Ways and Means Committee makes recommendations on articles dealing with money, and often drafts the proposed budget. The Town Clerk serves as the clerk of the meeting by recording its results. Town Counsel makes legal recommendations on all articles of the warrant, to ensure town meeting is acting lawfully. All registered voters are free to attend and vote on any and all articles. An Open Town Meeting is a form of municipal legislature, typical in the New England region of the United States. ... The Board of Selectmen is commonly the executive arm of town government in New England. ... The Board of Finance (also called Budget Committee, Finance Committee and Ways and Means Committee in different parts of New England) is an elected or appointed body that reviews town or school government budgets in towns or school districts that have the town meeting form of government. ... The Committee on Ways and Means is a committee of the United States House of Representatives. ... The term town clerk has been commonly applied, in several English-speaking countries, to an influential employee of a city or borough or town administration. ...


Representative Town Meeting

Massachusetts Towns having at least 6,000 residents may adopt a Representative Town Meeting system through the normal charter-change process. Representative Town Meetings function largely the same as an Open Town Meeting, except that not all registered voters can vote. The townspeople instead elect Town Meeting Members by precinct to represent them and to vote on the issues for them, much like a U.S. Representative votes on behalf of his/her constituents in Congress. Depending on population, a town may have anywhere from 45 to 240 Town Meeting Members. Framingham, the largest town in the state by population, has 216 representatives in Town Meeting, twelve from each precinct. A Representative Town Meeting is a form of municipal legislature used in Massachusetts. ... In the United Kingdom and Canada a Royal Charter is a charter granted by the Sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council, which creates or gives special status to an incorporated body. ... An Open Town Meeting is a form of municipal legislature, typical in the New England region of the United States. ... Seal of the House of Representatives The United States House of Representatives (or simply the House) is one of the two chambers of the United States Congress, the other being the Senate. ...   Settled: 1650 â€“ Incorporated: 1700 Zip Code(s): 01701, 01702, 01703, 01704, 01705 â€“ Area Code(s): 508 / 774 Official website: http://www. ... A precinct is a space enclosed by the walls or other boundaries of a particular place or building, or by an arbitrary and imaginary line drawn around it. ...


Annual Town Meetings

Annual Town Meetings are held in the spring, and may also be known as the Annual Budget Meeting. They are supposed be held between February 1 and May 31, but may be delayed until June 30. (Town fiscal years start on July 1.) At this meeting, the town takes care of any housecleaning it has left before the end of the current fiscal year, and prepares itself to enter the new fiscal year by approving a budget. It may also vote on non-budgetary issues on the warrant, including the town's general and zoning bylaws. February 1 is the 32nd day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ... May 31 is the 151st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (152nd in leap years), with 214 days remaining. ... June 30 is the 181st day of the year (182nd in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 184 days remaining. ... July 1 is the 182nd day of the year (183rd in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar, with 183 days remaining. ...


An article may be placed on the warrant by the Selectmen, sometimes at the request of town departments, or by a petition signed by at least ten registered voters of the town.


Special Town Meetings

Special Town Meetings are held whenever necessary, usually to deal with financial or other pertinent issues that develop between Annual Town Meetings. They function the same as an Annual Town Meeting, only the number of signatures required on a petition rises to 100. While the Selectmen generally call such a meeting, voters may call one through petition, and the number of signatures required on a petition to call a Special Town Meeting is 200 or 20% of the registered voters, whichever number is lower. The Selectmen have 45 days from the date of receiving such a petition to hold a Special Town Meeting.


Joint/Regional Town Meetings

Joint Town Meetings are an extremely rare form of town meeting. When two or more towns share an operating budget for something, the governing body of that entity will typically issue each town an assessment for its operation. The town then includes its assessment as part of its budget.


If Town Meeting in one town votes to approve its assessment based on the figures provided, and Town Meeting in another town votes a lesser figure than it was assessed, the disagreement becomes problematic. (For example, if X-town and Y-town run a high school together, and the total operating cost of the high school is $4,500,000, and X-town sends 51% of the school's students, X-town would be assessed $2,295,000 and Y-town would be assessed $2,205,000. An issue arises when X-town votes $2,295,000 and Y-town only votes $2,100,000.)


If the issue cannot be resolved, the governing body may call a meeting of all registered voters from all towns involved: a Joint Town Meeting. The action of the Joint Town Meeting is binding for all involved communities. When three or more towns are involved, the name often changes from Joint Town Meeting to Regional Town Meeting.


Case study

In 2003, the communities of Freetown and Lakeville, Massachusetts held their annual town meetings and voted on the budget for the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District as part of those meetings. Freetown voters approved a budget that reduced their contribution by $100,000 from what the Regional School Committee asked for, thus requiring Lakeville to lower their contribution proportionally. Lakeville voters instead approved the amount the Regional School Committee asked for, which would require Freetown to go back and approve the extra $100,000. Freetown is a town located in Bristol County, Massachusetts. ... Lakeville is a town located in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. ...


When the towns could not agree, the Regional School Committee, as governing body of the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District, called a joint town meeting of voters from Freetown and Lakeville to agree on a single regional school budget. The meeting voted in favor of the amount originally requested, which required Freetown to give the additional $100,000 it had held back.

  • Lakeville demands more Freetown funding A newspaper article describing the joint town meeting.

External links

William Francis Galvin is the current Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts form of a Secretary of State. ... The current Secretary of the Commonwealth (Basically the Secretary of State) is William Galvin. ...

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, towns, cities, unincorporated places and villages, and school districts have the option of two main types of annual meeting: Traditional meetings or ballot-vote meetings, known informally as "SB 2" or "Senate Bill 2." Each political subdivision can choose their form of meeting. Official language(s) English Capital Concord Largest city Manchester Area  Ranked 46th  - Total 9,359 sq mi (24,239 km²)  - Width 68 miles (110 km)  - Length 190 miles (305 km)  - % water 3. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with unincorporated. ...


Traditional Town Meetings

Traditional Town Meetings, or Open Meetings, are held annually on the second Tuesday of March to choose town officers and the transaction of all other town business. Town selectmen are also permitted to call special town meetings as warranted, although these must be approved by a judge. Town meetings are prohibited, by state law, from being held on the biennial election day, which is typically held in November to elect county, state and national officials. Selectmen are the elected representatives of a New England town that compose the board of selectmen. ... Look up Biennial in Wiktionary, the free dictionary Biennial is a term referring to a period of two years, much in the same way centennial refers to 100 years. ...


A town moderator is allowed under state law to adjourn a meeting that has run for a very long period and reconvene it at a later date, usually one week from the date of the meeting, and usually in the same location, in order to finish the town's business.


Official Ballot Referenda (SB 2)

The SB 2 form of government was instituted by the state legislature in 1995 because of concerns that modern lifestyles had made it difficult for people to attend traditional town meetings. Residents vote in an SB 2 election at a polling place throughout the day. They may also vote by absentee ballot. Municipalities that have adopted the SB 2 form of government may switch back to the traditional town meeting form by a 3/5 majority vote.


Under SB 2, a first session, called a "Deliberative Session," is held about a month prior to the town election. This session is similar in many ways to the traditional town meeting. However, unlike the town meeting, while the wording and dollar amounts of proposed ballot measures may be amended, no actual voting on the merits of the proposals takes place. The second session, held on a set election day, is when issues such as the town's budget and other measures, known as warrant articles, are voted upon.


When adopting SB 2, towns or school districts may hold elections on the second Tuesday in March, the second Tuesday in April, or the second Tuesday in May. The election dates may be changed by majority vote. If a vote is taken to approve the change of the local elections, the date becomes effective the following year.


In 2002, according to the University of New Hampshire Center for Public Policy studies, 171 towns in New Hampshire had traditional town meeting, while 48 had SB 2. Another 15 municipalities, most of them incorporated cities, had no annual meeting. The study found that 102 school districts had traditional town meeting, 64 had SB2 meeting and 10 had no annual meeting. University of New Hampshire (UNH) is a public university in the University System of New Hampshire (USNH). ...


Because traditional-meeting communities tend to be smaller, only one-third of the state's population was governed by traditional town meetings in 2002, and only 22 percent by traditional school-district meetings.


Official Ballot Town Council

Main article: Town Council

The Official Ballot Town Council is a variant form of the Town Council, in which certain items are to be placed on the ballot to be voted on by the registered voters. This process mimics the SB 2 process, except that the Town Council makes the determination of what items will go on the ballot. In the United Kingdom, town councils are civil parish councils, where the civil parish is a town. ...


Budgetary Town Meeting

The Budgetary Town Meeting is a variation of the Open Meeting, but only the annual town operating budget as presented by the governing body can be voted on by the registered voters. When a town charter provides for a Budgetary Town Meeting also must establish the procedures for the transfer of funds among various departments, funds, accounts and agencies as may be necessary during the year.


Representative Town Meeting

State law also allows for a Representative Town Meeting, similar to that of a Town Council, although as of 2006 the practice is not used by a town or school district in New Hampshire. Voters elect a small number of residents to act as the legislative body instead of them, however no town in the state has done so. Representative Town Meetings follow the same procedure and address the same issues as traditional town meetings, except they cannot consider matters which state law or the charter states must be placed on the official ballot of the town. A Representative Town Meeting is a form of municipal legislature used in Massachusetts. ... In the United Kingdom, town councils are civil parish councils, where the civil parish is a town. ...


Moderator

Moderators are elected to two-year terms on even years in towns and are elected in city wards at every other city election. The moderator's duties include presiding over town meetings, regulating the business thereof, deciding questions of order, making public declarations of each vote passed, and prescribing rules of proceeding which may be altered by the town as need. A moderator is a person who monitors the quality of a comment posted on a site, message board or IRC channel. ...


The moderator also has the authority to postpone and reschedule the deliberative session or voting day of the meeting to another reasonable date, place, and time certain in the case of a weather emergency in which the moderator reasonably believes the roads to be hazardous or unsafe.


External links

  • NH RSA Chapter 40: Government of Town Meeting
  • N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies report on SB2

Vermont

Town Meeting Day (the first Tuesday in March) is a state holiday. Most organized towns operate under the general statutes requiring an annual town meeting on that day or, optionally, on preceding days if the voters so choose. The purpose of town meeting is to elect municipal officers, approve annual budgets and conduct any other business. All cities and some towns in Vermont operate under charters instead of general legislation (see special legislation). The cities and chartered towns, except for South Burlington, are required by the terms of their charters to hold an annual town meeting, on Town Meeting Day. Many towns vote on matters of substance (e.g. budgets, elected officials, etc.) by Australian ballot. However, there is no state law that requires towns to vote by Australian ballot; several towns still conduct all business "from the floor". Official language(s) None[1] Capital Montpelier Largest city Burlington Area  Ranked 45th  - Total 9,620 sq mi (24,923 km²)  - Width 80 miles (130 km)  - Length 160 miles (260 km)  - % water 3. ... Special legislation (also called local legislation) is a legal term of art used in the United States which refers to acts of a state legislature which apply only to a specific municipality (or a group thereof) which is identified by name in the legislation. ... South Burlington, Vermont South Burlington is a city located in Chittenden County, Vermont, in the United States. ... A town meeting is a meeting where an entire geographic area is invited to participate in a gathering, often for a political or administrative purpose. ... The Polling by William Hogarth (1755); Before the secret ballot was introduced voter intimidation was commonplace The secret ballot is a process in elections where the choice of the voters is kept confidential. ...


Cities and towns are governed by either a city council or a selectboard. They are fully empowered to act on most issues and are generally referred to as the municipality's Legislative Body. But all town budgets (and those of other independent taxing authorities) must be approved by plebiscite; explaining the local government's budget request to the voters is the principal business of Town Meeting. Voters at Town Meeting may also vote on non-binding resolutions, and may place items on the ballot for the following year's meeting. A referendum (plural: referendums or referenda) or plebiscite is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. ...


There is no general requirement for chartered municipalities to observe Town Meeting or to put their budgets to plebiscite. When the Town of South Burlington was re-chartered as the City of South Burlington in 1971, the new charter provided for city elections in April and required only budget increases of 10% or more per annum to be placed before voters. No other municipality has been granted such a charter by the legislature, and there is strong sentiment against making future exceptions. 1971 (MCMLXXI) was a common year starting on Friday (the link is to a full 1971 calendar). ...


Employers in the state often give their employees time off, or at least give the employees the option of leaving early/coming in late, in order to attend their home town's Town Meeting. Universities often also give their students the day off from class so that they may go to Town Meeting to learn more about local issues and government.


In Europe

The best-known example of the town meeting system of government was to be found in the Basque Country of northern Spain in the Middle Ages. Known as the anteiglesia (literally "in front of the church" from the Latin ante NOT anti) all the residents of a town would meet outside the door of the largest church and vote on local matters. They would also elect a sindico to represent them in the regional assembly. The village or town was divided into cofradías, which dealt with day-to-day administration in each of the town's parishes. Location of Historical Territory of the Basque Country The Ikurriña, Basque Country flag The Lauburu, Basque Country symbol This article is about the overall Basque domain. ... The Middle Ages formed the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three ages: the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modern times, beginning with the Renaissance. ...


The system was revived in the municipality of Iurreta, Vizcaya in 1990. Iurreta is a town located in the province of Bizkaia, in the autonomous community of Basque Country, in the North of Spain. ... (For the Vizcaya mansion in Florida, see Villa Vizcaya) Vizcaya province Vizcaya (Basque Bizkaia) is a province of northern Spain, in the northwestern part of the autonomous community of the Basque Country. ...


Within religious communities

  • The Bahá'í Faith has a Nineteen Day Feast which encourages all members of the geographic community in good standing to attend for prayers, administrative discussion, and socializing. This meeting is one component of the Bahá'í Administrative Order (which is held up as a model for secular society to consider implementing some of its features), and the meeting is considered by Bahá'ís to be an example of grass-roots democracy.

Seat of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, governing body of the Baháís The Baháí Faith is a religion founded by Baháulláh in 19th century Persia. ... The Nineteen Day Feast regular community gathering, occuring at the first day of each month of the Baháí calendar, consisting of three sections: Devotional, Administrative, and Social. ... The Baháí administration refers to the administrative system of the Baháí Faith. ... Grassroots democracy is the political processes which are driven by groups of ordinary citizens, as opposed to larger organisations or wealthy individuals with concentrated vested interests in particular policies. ...

In fiction

The fictional Springfield of The Simpsons television show has frequent town meetings, as does the fictional town of Stars Hollow from the CW's Gilmore Girls. Springfield is the fictional city in which the TV series The Simpsons is set. ... Simpsons redirects here. ... Stars Hollow is the fictional small town in Connecticut that is the setting for the WB series Gilmore Girls. ... Gilmore Girls is an hour-long American television drama/comedy that has aired since 2000. ...


See also


  Results from FactBites:
 
Town meeting - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2513 words)
Between sessions the board of selectmen interprets the policy set at Town Meeting and is assigned numerous duties including: approving all town non-school expenditures, authorizing highway construction and repair, serving as town purchasing agent for non-school items, issuing licenses and overseeing the conduct of all town activities.
Town meetings are prohibited, by state law, from being held on the biennial election day, which is typically held in November to elect county, state and national officials.
Representative Town Meetings follow the same procedure and address the same issues as traditional town meetings, except they cannot consider matters which state law or the charter states must be placed on the official ballot of the town.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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