Guide to Town Meeting
Based on Citizen’s Guide to Town Meetings available on the Secretary of State’s website .
Each town has a different way of running its Town Meeting, depending on its bylaws or charter. Sometimes the customs and traditions are written down; sometimes they are not. This guide is a general outline of the Town Meeting Basics, some of the procedures may be used in one town and not another. This guide is not intended to be an all inclusive text, but a broad overview designed to encourage you to find out more and attend your own Town Meeting. If you have any questions regarding the specific procedures employed by your town, please contact your Town Clerk or Town Meeting Moderator.
–Secretary of State, William Galvin
What is a Town Meeting?
A Town Meeting is both an event and an entity. As an event, it is a gathering of a town’s eligible voters, and is referred to as “the Town Meeting.” As an entity, it is the legislative body for towns in Massachusetts, and is referred to simply as “Town Meeting.” So you may say, “I went to the Town Meeting. Town Meeting approved the budget.” With the exception of reserve fund transfers authorized by statute and administered by the Finance Committee, Town meeting has exclusive authority to appropriate town money.
What’s an open Town Meeting?
Granby has an open Town Meeting, meaning that all of Granby registered voters may vote on all matters. Some towns have representative town meeting at which only elected town meeting representatives may vote.
What does Town Meeting decide?
Town Meeting decides three major things:
1. It sets the salaries for the paid town positions by approving the budget.
2. It votes to appropriate money to run the town.
3. It votes on our local statutes, which are called by-laws.
What’s a moderator?
The moderator’s job is to run the Town Meeting. Massachusetts General Law grants the the moderator a lot of authority in the running of the meeting. The moderator declares the outcome of all votes. The elected term of the Granby Town Moderator is 1 year.
What’s a Select Board?
We have a three member Select Board who is Granby’s executive officers. Voters elect one each year to a 3 year term. They hire a Town Administrator who reports to them and administers the day to day operations.
What does the town clerk do?
At the Town Meeting, the clerk records all votes and takes minutes. Granby’s town clerk is elected for a 3 year term. At Granby’s town meeting, she typically seconds motions.
What is a town counsel?
The town counsel is an attorney that counts Granby among his/her clients. The town counsel reviews the warrant (the Town Meeting’s agenda). During the Town Meeting, the town counsel answers legal questions that come up. He or she is appointed by the Select Board.
What does the finance committee do?
A 5 member board nominated by the moderator, appointed by the Town Administrator, and approved by the Select Board, the finance committee gives its recommendation to town meeting on all financial items. Members serve a 3 year term. In conjunction with the Town Administrator and department heads, they create the town budget and then present it to annual Town Meeting starts.
ANNUAL AND SPECIAL TOWN MEETINGS
What’s the difference between Annual and Special Town Meetings?
Each town in Massachusetts is required to hold an Annual Town Meeting. Additional Town Meetings are called Special Town Meetings. Special Town Meetings may be called by the Select Board or by citizen petition at any time.
When is the Annual Town Meeting?
Per Granby by-laws, our Annual Town Meeting (local Election Day) for the election of Officers is held on the third Monday in May. And the business meeting (The Town Meeting) is held on the second Monday in May As mentioned there are 2 parts to the Annual Town Meeting, town elections and the business meeting. In recent years, the state has been slow in releasing the numbers for state aid and this date has changed accordingly.
What takes place at the business meeting?
At the business meeting, the focus is on Granby’s town budget, finances and taxes pertaining to the next fiscal year. The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30. Other items may be placed here also by the Select Board or by citizen petition.
How am I reminded when Town Meeting will take place?
As per town by-law, the warrant for each Annual Town Meeting must be posted in 5 public places at least 7 days prior to each Annual Town Meeting. A notice of warrant for every Town Meeting shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation within the Town at least seven days prior to each such meeting. The notice must specify that copies of the warrant are available in Town Hall. You can sign up for email reminders on the town website or call the Town Clerk’s office at 467-7178.
Who calls the Special Town Meetings?
The Select Board calls Special Town Meetings.
If the Select Board is presented with a petition of at least one hundred registered voters, the matter of the petition shall be inserted as an article in the next Special Town Meeting.
The Select Board shall call a Special Town Meeting upon a request in writing of two hundred voters registered in Granby.
Can a Special Town Meeting be called for more than one reason?
Yes. For example, a Special Town Meeting could be called to consider amending a zoning by-law and for buying a new fire truck.
What are articles?
Articles are items or issues placed on the warrant for a vote. Article 1 on the Annual Town Meeting’s warrant, for example, asks to hear reports from town officers and or town committees. Each article is a separate issue and all action and discussion at Town Meeting must be within the scope of an article. It is up to the moderator’s discretion if amendments made to an article fall within the original scope of the article.
What’s a warrant?
The Town Meeting warrant lists a meeting’s time, place and agenda (list of articles). Another word for warrant is “warning.” The warrant warns or alerts voters that an issue is going to be taken up at Town Meeting. A Town Meeting’s action is not valid unless the subject was listed on the warrant in accordance with the law.
When is the warrant available?
As previously stated, per Granby by-law the warrant must be out at least 7 days before the Town Meeting and posted in at least 5 public places.
Who makes up the warrant?
The Town Administrator makes up the warrant. The select board examines and approves it.
May voters place articles on the warrant for the annual town meeting?
Yes. Granby voters may “insert” articles in the warrant. They have to do it before the Select Board “closes” the warrant. A cutoff date set by the selectmen.
To insert an article in the warrant for an Annual Town Meeting, at least 10 Granby registered voters must sign a petition. The annual report, which is available on the town website, contains articles that can be used as models. For further assistance, contact the town clerk or Select Board’s office.
Citizens may insert an article in the warrant for a Special Town Meeting, but the requirements are more onerous.
HOW TOWN MEETINGS OPERATE
What is the quorum for a Town Meeting?
In an open Town Meeting, the minimum number of voters who may conduct business is established by Granby town by-laws. The quorum in Granby is thirty (30) registered voters. A quorum must be present before the Town Meeting may start and conduct business.
Who can attend?
All of Granby’s registered voters may attend. Non-registered voters may also attend, but must sit in a separate section.
Who may speak?
All of Granby’s registered voters may speak at Town Meetings when recognized by the moderator. Non-voters may speak at the discretion of the moderator with the approval of the Town Meeting. Town bylaws grant permission for the town administrator and school superintendent to speak at town meeting.
Who may vote?
All Granby’s registered voters may vote at Town Meeting.
Is the warrant the agenda?
Yes, the warrant generally states the things to be voted on. The actual motion read at the meeting may differ from the warrant. The motion as read, however, falls within the scope of the warrant article.
How do I know which article the Town Meeting is considering?
The moderator will call someone to read the article.
How do I speak in a debate?
If you wish to speak, raise your hand until the moderator recognizes you. If he or she cannot see you, stand and say, “Madame Moderator!” to get his/her attention. Once recognized state your name and street address.
Speak about the topic being discussed only. Don’t speak about a previous or future matter. Stay within the scope of the motion or article, be to the point and brief.
Make your comments to the moderator, not to the Town Meeting or individuals. For example, do not say, “I have something to say to the Town Meeting,” or “Mr. Black, you said something I want to respond to.” Instead, say something like, “Mr. Moderator, these are my thoughts on this article.”
You may attack a previous speaker’s argument, but do not attack a previous speaker. For example, do not say, “the previous speaker is dead wrong.” Instead, say something like, “I disagree with the argument we just heard.”
Avoid referring to previous speakers by name. For example, try not to say, “I agree with Mr. White’s argument.” Instead, say something like, “I agree with the argument that we can afford this budget item.”
Since you make your comments to the moderator, you may not directly debate or ask questions of a previous speaker. For example, do not say, “Mr. Black, you say that we should make another exceptions to the zoning law” or “I’m asking you: when do we draw the line and stop making exceptions.” Instead say something like, “Mr. Moderator, we have heard the argument that we should make just one more exception to the zoning law. But I say it’s time to stop making exceptions.”
PROCEDURE AND MOTIONS
Do I need to know “parliamentary” procedure to attend Town Meeting?
No. The moderator will take care of it. But this is why this primer is being provided, to help you become more familiar with routine matters at Town Meeting so you’ll become more comfortable getting involved and partaking in Town Meetings.
Does a simple majority always rule?
No, sometimes a super majority (more than a simple majority) is needed for votes on certain issues. For example, zoning by-law changes requires a 2/3 vote. Moving money in or out of a stabilization fund also requires a 2/3 majority. The moderator will state what is required before the article is voted on.
What do the following terms mean?
Adjourn end the meeting
Move the previous question to cut off debate and vote on the issue at hand
To amend to change a motion
Postpone indefinitely defeats the article
I’m not familiar with making a motions or an amendment to a motion, how do I make one?
Rather than make a motion that may require the moderator to untangle and decode it, raise your hand and ask the moderator, when you’re recognized, how to make a motion or amendment to the motion to achieve what you want to do. All motions made from the floor, other than procedural motions, shall be submitted to the Moderator in writing before a vote is called.
How do I call for a vote?
Move the previous question, which means to call for a vote. When recognized, say, “I move the question.” If accepted it shuts off all debate.
What’s the difference among adjourning, recessing and dissolving?
Dissolving the Town Meeting means that it is over. If the Town Meeting has not dissolved, but is taking a break, and will resume on the same day, it has recessed.
“Adjourning” is an imprecise word. It is sometimes used to mean “dissolving”; sometimes “recessing”; and sometimes that this day of the Town Meeting has ended, and that the Town Meeting will resume on another day in the future.
FINDING OUT MORE
Where do I find the statutes governing Town Meetings?
The Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 39 and 43A. Parts of other chapters apply to Town Meetings, but Chapter 39 and 43A are the major ones.
Where do I get a copy of Granby’s by-laws?
The town bylaws governing town meeting can be obtained on the Town’s website.
Each town has a different way of running its Town Meetings. Sometimes the customs and traditions are written down; sometimes they’re not. This primer is designed to make you comfortable enough to find out more. The best way to find out more is to ATTEND GRANBY MEETINGS!
Citizen’s Guide to Town Meetings Massachusetts Secretary of State at website
Revised for Granby by Albert H. Bail, Former Town Moderator, August 2013
Revised again by Mark L. Bail, Selectman, September 2013