North Andover Town Meeting, Love it or Leave it
By: George Vozeolos – December, 2012
With another Special Town Meeting taking place last month, I would like to make it clear what I am trying to do and why.
First the why. Our existing town charter was adopted over 22 years ago and North Andover has grown considerably. Like an old sweater, we know it is comfortable but we need to make sure it still fits. If one was to examine several recent Town meetings that were held, you start to question if it still fits and then it becomes easy to understand the why
1) July 23, 2006 – Uncivil Disobedience
A Special Town Meeting was held to discuss trash fees. This Town Meeting set a State record for attendance and uncivil behavior. It pointed out deficiencies in our ability to support a town meeting, if everyone wanted to exercise their right to vote. For the override, we had 8,000 people vote, which was a good thing, now if they all show up for a Town Meeting – where do we hold it – Boston Garden? Fenway Park?
2) May 14, 15, & 21, 2007 – A Tale of Three Cities
Town Meeting was extended to three nights with attendance of 1300, 400, 160. Who would like to debate that if any of the closely contested articles were voted on another night the results would be different. Does that make sense to anyone? Is that any way to run a town?
3) June 4, 2007 – Bataan Death March with Voting Cards
A Special Town Meeting was held to approve the 40R zoning at Osgood Landing. Despite a recommendation by the FINCOM for further evaluation, five hundred people endured 2 1/2 hours of discussions and when the issue was put to vote – it passed 495 to 4. Seems like an awfully long time for a decision that was nearly unanimous.
Don’t forget this meeting was delayed first from February then May. If North Andover is telling businesses we will roll out the red carpet for them, let’s not tell them how long it is!!
4) November 26, 2007 – The Doomsday Scenario
The Open Town Meeting Doomsday scenario goes something like this: A special interest group (Wireless Bylaw Committee?) gets 200 signatures, which forces the selectmen to call a special town meeting (as specified in our current charter), a few people show up (no quorum is specified) and the article is passed which serve the narrows needs of the special interest group but not the needs of the town as a whole. So right now we are half way there – let’s see how many people show up. This meeting will cost the town $5,000 – 10,000. Now I can’t speak to the legitimacy of this issue but if no one shows up to analyze the merits of the article and it passes, it could cost the town another $10K to defend litigations.
Another way to look at this meeting, there were four articles on the warrant, so this town meeting will cost the town $2,500 a decision. In addition to delaying cell tower permits, there are 2 articles expanding the scope of serving liquor. A humorous thought, if we pass having a moratorium on issuing cell tower permit renewals and expand the scope of liquor licenses, how will the drunks be able to call a taxi to get a ride home?
Seriously, I am not sure how any person can reflect on the past meetings and not ask “Is there a better way?”
My answer is: “There has to be, I don’t know what it is, but I want to find out.”
Which leads into – what I am trying to do. I am circulating a petition to have a charter commission elected which would review our charter and then recommend either modifications to our existing charter or adoption of a new charter. A nine-member charter commission is elected and their recommendations are voted on again. All charter commission meetings are open meetings with plenty of public participation so we will have a lot of say in what happens.
If you agree will all this, then here is the rub. Petitions don’t sign themselves.
You need to sign a petition!! Better yet, get some petitions and ask your neighbors to sign one at the neighborhood holiday get-together or school holiday socials.
We have a little under1,000 signatures and we need 2,400, so nothing will move forward unless people step up and help out.
You can get petitions from Joyce Bradshaw in the Town Clerks office or you can contact me at NACharter@comcast.com [mailto: NACharter@comcast.net]. It is best to return signed petitions to the Town Clerks office as well. If you have a business in North Andover and would be willing to put a petition out and be added to list on the left or if you are looking for additional ways to help please contact me [mailto:NACharter@comcast.net].
One last thing, Tracy Watson who is a advocate of reviewing our town charter is running for Selectman. Besides being a supporter for a charter review, she has lots of positive ideas for the Town.