The failure to pass the Fairbanks roof article at the “rancorous” town meeting last month provides some potential insight about improving town meeting. Selectman Haarde’s inspirational goal to have a community center worthy of Sudbury deserves investigation before we sink $600K into today’s less than ideal building. The defeat of roof repair in my opinion was the right decision and does not rule out voting again in the spring when more information should be available. But how did we get to this decision?
Despite some insightful and critical questions from many in the audience, the article still seemed destined to pass early in the discussion. A single question from the hall, however, changed the debate. A resident asked to hear the one dissenting opinion on the board of selectmen. From this one question, the hall learned a lot.
Selectman Haarde had opposed the roof repair a year ago at a board meeting. The other selectmen heard his objection, but pushed forward anyway. With this new information, many of the comments previously made in the hall made sense.
It turned out that not all the tenants of the building were happy, parents were not thrilled with the condition of the facility and more importantly, there was no long term plan for the community center as Haarde reminded us in his presentation.
Yet this information never would have come out had that one request to hear the minority opinion not been made. Essentially, the minority doesn’t have a platform to easily voice concerns to the town’s legislature. Town meeting is designed to spoon feed us the majority opinion. This needs to change.
At town meeting, we should hear dissenting opinions from FINCOM, the Board of Selectmen, and on school matters, the school committees. Listening to minority opinions helps everyone solidify their position. No one in the hall should have to use their limited ability to ask questions just to get a dissenting opinion. If the Supreme Court can issue rulings with both majority and minority opinions, we can do it in Sudbury.
Minority opinions voiced clearly at town meeting will enable us to arrive at better decisions. A good lesson learned from the Fairbanks roof.