By: Tom Duggan – April, 27, 2014
DiSalvo will allow town voters to ask questions of Town Meeting participants via the internet and have their concerns addressed during the meeting.
“I have always been concerned about the fact that Town Meeting has two constituencies; the people in that room at that time when judgments are being made, and the people of the town who are not in that room who will be affected by the judgments of people who are making judgments the room.”
Moderator DiSalvo says that only registered voters will be allowed to participate in the meeting via the internet. Voters can log on to the town website during Town Meeting where they must submit their real name, a phone number where they can be reached to confirm their identity, and their question about the warrant article being discussed,” the Moderator said.
The voter’s question will be sent directly to a laptop at town meeting where members of the League of Women Voters (a liberal, women’s rights organization) will verify the voters identity, confirm their status as a town voter and the question will be read aloud as well as the voter’s identity.
“I will have nothing to do with knowing who is asking the question,” DiSalvo said.
“If the question is redundant or has already been answered in some way I will have the discretion to skip over it. I will require that voters only ask a question on an article up for discussion at the time, if their question comes in while we are talking about another [warrant] article that question will not be asked. The one thing I am not going to do let people from outside the room hijack or take over the courtesies of the meeting. So, if we are in the middle of a long night, I have no problem curtailing number of questions per article that come in on line just as I can for those participating in the room.”
DiSalvo says that those who participate on line will not be able to vote or make motions on Town Meeting Articles and hopes that those who participate on line will be inspired to physically attend a meeting next time because “that’s where the action is, that’s where the power is, that’s where the votes take place.”
“I like the reasoning for it,” North Andover Selectman Tracy Watson said. “People live busy lives, kids, sports, work, etc. And this would allow them an opportunity to somewhat still participate. But the execution will be critical. There must still must be a respect for the voting body that is present. Ultimately they are the legislators.”
Watson said her only concern would be centered around there being any limitations on debate from the floor of Town Meeting due to email questions taking up a portion of the night. “I believe the voters in the room and their opinions should take precedence,” she said. “Again the execution will in the end be my gauge on whether I support it going forward or not.”
DiSalvo says he hopes that by getting voters to participate in Town Meeting on-line it will allow more participation in democracy when some would otherwise be unable to participate because they may be caring for elderly or infirmed parents, are away on a business trip, taking care of small children or work late hours.
“Think of your radio show, Tom (The Paying Attention Radio Program on 980WCAP). I listen to you on the net and I know people can call in and ask questions. You have a radio show because you can’t invite hundreds of thousands of people into the studio to hear what you and your guests have to say on important issues. As important as your radio show is, [Town Meeting] is a real conversation about decisions being made right then, on the spot, concerning police and fire protection in their neighborhood, schools, zoning and spending issues. I think that deserves at least as wide an audience of participation as a radio program.”
DiSalvo said that the idea of internet participation at Town Meeting has been received warmly by North Andover officials but not so warmly by his fellow town moderators in other communities. He says that he is “trying the idea” and that if it doesn’t work out he will scrap it. He added that trying new ideas of getting people interested and able to participate in the 400-plus-year institution that is North Andover Town Meeting, is what he was elected do .
You can watch the meeting live at townofnorthandover.com.
Moderator DiSalvo said that voters will get a chance to decide whether or not the town will take the Berry Street project by eminent domain for low to moderate income housing as well as budget and zoning issues, CPA and various other town articles.