The Age of Innocence is Over

Reflections on Special Town Meeting 2012

The Special Town Meeting of September 24, 2012 will be a new bookmark worthy page in Sudbury's history.  While an agenda of six articles may not seem very big, this meeting really deserved two evenings to allow for more thorough discussion from all interested and concerned citizens.  There was no question in viewing the attendance that this article would pass, in my mind anyway.  

But there were proposed amendments to discuss thoroughly to the satisfaction of all range of citizens and not just the petitioning parties and many citizens were unable to either be heard or were constantly interrupted with points of order thrown about with no basis for doing so.  

Time, it seemed, was of the essence, and the process was not given the full and dedicated scrutiny it deserved to feel that due process had been demonstrated.  I refer to the Special Town Meeting setting specifically and not in a general way.

This said, I voted in favor of article 4 but for other reasons than what the petitioner presented.  I voted for growth based progress, the sooner the better. Because as the high school auditorium began to burst at the seams I couldn't help but think ahead to 2020 when another critical issue will come up and we will all be looking at video screens and be voting with buttons instead of little green cards.  

I hope that meeting will be a more hospitable one and a meeting that will encourage lengthy discussion and not interrupted comments and hurried voting. The meeting in 2020 may have a warrant article to replace the High School roof, as well as another to approve construction of the new Community center.  And I am certain that some of those who disrespectfully interrupted me and others last night will cross their fingers in 2020 in hopes they can make their comment without points of order interrupting their momentum.  

I was like a naive babe going into this meeting last night. I really believed that the history being made would be flavored with a sense of community and understanding and goodwill.  

I left the evening frustrated by the inability to not only make a simple point regarding growth which happened to call for referring to historical data as supporting argument FOR article four, but a feeling of discontent and sadness when neighbors on either side of me left out of frustration as well.  I had hoped to bring my youngest son who attends LS with the pretense that this would be a wonderful example of democracy and co-operation at work.  

I am glad I did not succeed because I left the meeting feeling Sudbury shed an innocent skin.  When and if this article 4 is put to a vote I urge you to support it.  We need to address growth with as much input and support as this town can muster.  

Pardon the historical pun.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

siobhan hullinger September 26, 2012 at 09:57 AM
The Special Town Meeting last Monday IS an example of how democracy and cooperation can work. It's important for our youth to participate in all aspects of how out town, state and nationall political landscape evolves. Part of that participation is understanding how we got there. For me, it wasn't the Lavendergate FB group or even the incident(s) that prompted the FB group. It is and has been the pattern(s) of behavior and decisions over many years. I would say that each Town Meeting has brought frustration and disappointment to many - for a variety of reasons. It is an imperfect method to governance but I ask you - what is a perfect method?
siobhan hullinger September 26, 2012 at 09:58 AM
If you are interested in historical data - look into the attendence numbers associated with the 1994 Town Meeting where Sudbury made a significant change to our governance versus last Monday where we "amended" ( sorry lacking for a better word ) the number of Selectman. On a percentage and number basis, we had more today than in 1994. We also saw the utilization of "amendments" by opposers of Article 4. We haven't seen that in a while. We also saw passion for the future of our community - perhaps not shown in the most laudible ways but it was there. We also saw united voices that come from many opposing viewpoints in other sectors of life. We also saw many first timers to Town Meeting and any time you can garner interest, it's a good thing. We also saw accomodation - the meeting did not start in time allowing people to be able to be seated and not locked out. Whether your article of interest passed or not, it was clear prior to the meeting this TM was going to be different. People had to prepare for the alternative curveball and spend significant time doing research, garnering support and preparing presentations. I applaud your presentation and being somewhat of a historical numbers geek, I was interested. At the same time, I think the Moderator understood how the vote would go.
siobhan hullinger September 26, 2012 at 09:59 AM
I don't agree with it but again, it is an imperfect system. I also felt that we should ahve debated the primary article -even though many of the points were made during the amendments phase. But again, I don't think we would have heard anything different. As most of our residency is families, babysitters and the like have timelines and extending the time of each article creates the possibility that some would not be able to cast their vote for their article of interest. I was one of those as well. I learned quite alot about TM procedures from that one TM and I think that's a good thing. I also have renewed faith in the sustainability in our little patch of the world because of that TM. Ultimately, we changed the course and brought new people to the arena. We have awoken a significant portion of our residency and that also is a good thing. If you really wan to see rancor - check out the United Kingdom's Parliament!
UserName September 26, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Gosh, I see this in such a different way. I see it as a tremendous success that so many people were willing show up and stay for hours and vote on making their community better. Kristen - you got your points across about growth and they were smart. At the risk of sounding corny, I think what is happening in our town is a reflection of what makes our country great to begin with and that's a demand for checks and balances and a refusal to let a few hoard the power over many. Despite some cynical portrayals, this is a very bi-partisan effort born out of frustration with not feeling heard. The refusal for accountability for the Lavender debacle, the unaddressed frustration and distrust in the Noyes community, Johnson Farms, etc. has created a tipping point. People are simply fed up with not feeling heard and not seeing action to address their frustrations. I sincerely hope that elected, appointed and hired officals in this town got a very big message on Monday. To me, that message is that those of us who have been perhaps guilty of apathy in the past no longer are - and we want what's fair and honest. There's much work to be done, but I feel far more hopeful than I have in months for the direction this town is headed.
JON999 September 26, 2012 at 03:01 PM
UserName, That is the best stated summation of how I (and I conjecture the vast majority of others supporting the motion) feel about this matter I've seen. thank you for stating it so clearly.
Kirsten Vandijk September 26, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Sioban, I am not saying it was not an example, I am saying it was not THE example I had hoped to share with him. I am the first to say that the passing of article four was a huge success. That is a product-oriented statement. What I object to is that many of us at the meeting were forced to endure the rancor, anger, bitterness, and often disrespectful PROCESS at the meeting. One very prominent proponent of article 4 and I dare say friend of mine visited me yesterday and agreed that many of the group "....are angry....." Understood. I am as well. But I leave my anger at the door to the High School, put on my happy face, sit next to someone who may or may not vote as I, and celebrate democracy by following procedure and patiently listening to ALL points of view. Nanette, for example, by doing just that, changed her vote. That is why we stop, look, and listen. We might hear something that could educate us further. Article 4 was a success the moment a warrant showed up in everyone's mailbox. Town Meeting deserved better, more respectful, and more thorough discussion. It deserved two evenings for more relaxed and less hurried voting. For transparency.
Kirsten Vandijk September 26, 2012 at 04:52 PM
With the internet and social media a major player in today's political game vs those days past, one indeed should be prepared. And I was. But I was not prepared for the constant interruptions abusing the point of order tool. Disrespectful it was. And not tolerated by many including me. The anger the group exhibited is their anger to deal with and not an arsenal. We attendees were hostage to a rancor that was a lost opportunity misguided. It would have been such a treat if instead of the hostility there were a lighter atmosphere that infected the hall to make it more celebratory and less combative evening. That would have been wonderful for my son to experience.
Kirsten Vandijk September 26, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I have a friend who now lives in England and I get many a report from her and her family. Siobhan, I just want people to be nicer towards each other and treat them with courtesy and respect. When I arrived at the High School at 7pm to go to the pre-meeting of the Selectmen I was face to face with one member of the Board I do not care for. I looked him straight in the face, in the eyes, and respectfully inquired as to where the meeting was to take place. I walked to the meeting steps respectfully behind him and with a smile on my face. I greeted another Selectman who I have voiced should consider term limitations and he smiled at me and waved and I waved and smiled back. Despite our deep differences we co-existed comfortably. I left Town Meeting after it adjourned with a splitting stress headache and the desire to sleep for a week. Why is that do you think? By the way, congrats on your new post with the school.
Kirsten Vandijk September 26, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I don't think that is corny at all, UserName! It is true. The Town of Sudbury has now been treated to a mini-revolution. And, admittedly and historically, revolutions are by nature messy. :)
LessIsMore September 26, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Kirsten, I also believe that the crowd was inconsiderate and impatient during your presentation. I believe that this was more a result of a frustration of the attendees that unfortunately was taken out on you. I like many of the other attendees would have welcomed an open debate on the merits of the article. I thought that Mike Troiano did a great job presenting his case in support of the article without any personal attacks and sticking to the issues. However, this was immediately met with an attempt to derail and delay the process (My opinion - Shared by many with whom I have spoken) with an amendment that prevented further discussion of the merits of the article. It is curious to say the least that the person offering this amendment just happened to the be the first person recognized by the Moderator. This resulted wasting a considerable amount of time debating an amendment that I believe was not offered in good faith and that had no chance of passing. It is just these types of actions that have generated the palpable frustration of many citizens. Unfortunately, you were treated rudely due to this frustration and that is not fair. However, although I believe it would be better if we could all be cordial toward our fellow citizens I believe that the increased involvement of all citizens can only be a good thing for the town. I am sorry that you were treated roughly but I agree with UserName and I am more hopeful about the direction of the town.
JJoseph September 26, 2012 at 08:48 PM
LesslsMore, Well said. I agree that this was a total stall tactic on the entrenched to derail the vote. Michael Fee spends 15 minutes to come up with a one sentence amendment? This type of behavior is exactly why the audience was growing increasingly impatient. Everyone I have talked to is bothered by the fact that this was all pre staged by the Sudbury insiders. However, it did not work this time.
Rick Billig September 26, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Kirsten I thought you did well expressing your thoughts. I don't think anyone felt any differently. It just feels that way when you are standing in front of the room. Everyone was respectful when I spoke my mind too but I will admit that it was my first time speaking and I sounded like an idiot. If we look at it from the perspective of the majority in the room - they feel they have had to put up with this same treatment all along too. (I was supporting a delay so we could have more discussion on the topic by the way).
Kirsten Vandijk September 27, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Thank you, LessIsMore, for validating what I was beginning to think may be self importance on my part. I am aware of the time it takes for reasonable discussion and that is the main point of this blog. Town Meeting is, apparently, a new venue for residents to freely voice their concerns and opinions. Town Meeting has a protocol and many have found ways to creatively help their particular position. But now that we agree there is a new movement using an old tool let's also agree to follow common courtesy and the very protocol that can and will serve everyone. I look forward to May and an increased attendance now that Town Meeting has been discovered.
Kirsten Vandijk September 27, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Thanks for your comment, Rick. I feel our connection. But I may seem inflexible when I say that I don't excuse the inappropriate behavior exhibited Monday evening. My hope is that May will be a much more ONE SUDBURY feeling event and not one filled with sparring and rancor and disrespect for protocol. The rules apply to everyone--even the frustrated and angry. Sorry to be so dry but objectivity is a friend in matters concerning town politics.


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