By: D.J. Deeb – November, 2010
Dracut residents recently rejected a warrant article lowering the quorum requirement at its annual November town meetings to 50. This change was proposed by Dracut Town Clerk Kathy Graham as a cost saving measure. Although I can appreciate Kathy Graham’s good intentions, I believe that lowering the quorum requirement to 50 would have had devastating consequences for Dracut. Instead Town Meeting approved an amendment authored by Dracut resident Hank Noel which lowered the quorum from 250 to 200 at the November Town Meeting. This move makes more sense.
At the November 1st Town Meeting, Dracut residents who were in attendance wisely rejected a warrant article, which would have reduced the quorum requirement for Town Meeting from the current 250 to just 50 residents who are registered voters in order to legally conduct business at the November Town Meeting. This was a wise move on the part of Dracut residents who attended Town Meeting.
Those who favored reducing the quorum requirement to 50 maintain that the November Town Meeting deals mostly with zoning matters that not enough residents care about to show up to vote on. Thus, reducing the quorum to 50 would have been a cost saving measure since it costs Dracut taxpayers approximately $2,000 for every meeting that is postponed due to a lack of a quorum. I can fully understand and appreciate the arguments here, but I think that this still establishes a bad precedent. As long as Dracut continues to maintain open town meeting, I feel that a quorum of 200 (or 250) out of 20,000 registered residents is not unreasonable. Reducing the quorum requirement to 50 would have constituted a field day for special interests. Those with vested interests would show up while most residents would not.
Personally, I have long been in favor of eliminating Town Meeting and changing Dracut’s status to a city (like Methuen) and its form of government to that of a strong mayor with a city counsel. However, if we are going to keep the current form of government, Dracut would do better to explore the possibility of having elected Town Meeting representatives in order to meet the quorum requirement. This, in my view, this is a much better option than allowing decisions at Town Meeting to be made by special interests.
Changing the Town Meeting quorum requirements to 50 would have only given politicians the cover they needed to propose policies that benefit a few at the expense of everyone else and then blame Town Meeting. Reducing the requirement to 200 is even risky, but it makes more sense than 50.
Dracut chose wisely in not allowing the quorum requirement at Town Meeting to be reduced to 50 residents, thus providing a cover for the politicians and special interests. Dracut residents should still consider changing the form of government to a strong mayor-counsel form or changing the Town Charter to allow for a representative Town Meeting.
D.J. Deeb is a of the Town of Dracut Committee on Government Rules and Regulations, served on the Dracut School Committee from 2005-2008 and the Gr. Lowell Regional Voc-Tech School Committee from 1997-2009. Deeb is an Adjunct Professor of History/Government at Bunker Hill Community College and an Adjunct Political Science Instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He teaches Social Studies full-time at Reading Memorial High School.