North Andover Town Moderator Opens On-Line Town Meeting Access

Innovation to allow non-attendee participation at Town Meeting expanded.

North Andover Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo vouched for the character of convicted felon Lenny Degnan at his sentencing hearing.
North Andover Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo vouched for the character of convicted felon Lenny Degnan at his sentencing hearing.

Continuing what he calls “the historic initiative of the past two years”, North Andover Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo will be allowing questions at Town Meeting to be asked by citizens electronically.

In the first year of the program residents were given an opportunity to post questions but were limited to the evening of Town Meeting. Last year it was expanded to the week prior to Town Meeting. This year, DiSalvo has opened the email question posting period to the full two weeks prior to Town Meeting. Town Meeting takes place on Tuesday May 10tt at the North Andover High School auditorium. 

In allowing questions from outside the meeting room DiSalvo says he “hopes to expand awareness of and interest in Town Meeting. 

“I have always believed that Town Meeting has two constituencies – those who attend, participate and vote in the meeting and those who are governed by what is decided at Town Meeting. This fact begged the on-line initiative,” DiSalvo said. 

“It is important to note that the power of the meeting remains with those who do take the time and effort to be present, listen, deliberate and vote at the meeting.  While all power is in the room, all knowledge may not be in attendance.”

 Special rules and procedures are in place. Citizens unable to attend will be allowed to email questions to a secure website and, after proper vetting for redundancy and voter identity, have their question posed to the meeting.  Anyone wishing to send in a question must do so by logging on to the Town of North Andover web site   up to two weeks prior and throughout the evening of Town Meeting where they will click on a banner that will take them to a web form detailing the rules. You must be a registered voter, provide your name, address and a confirming phone number. 

When a question is sent to Town Meeting, the person posting it will get a confirming notice that their question has been received. 

An independent on-line question team will confirm the questioner is a registered voter, determine the propriety of the question – only questions, no motions or statements of position are allowed – and, if the question has not been asked or otherwise already covered during the meeting, it will be presented by one of the monitors after all discussion by those in attendance has been completed.  There is no guarantee that every question will be asked but when one is asked the identity of the questioner will be made to Town Meeting. 

“We need to ensure that Town Meeting does not become an anachronism – a dinosaur of governance anchored to history and not relevant to the lives and society in which we live,” the Town Moderator said. 

“I am pleased by the reception of the community for this innovation and that other communities in the Commonwealth are planning the adoption of what we have pioneered.” 

DiSalvo promised that he “will be ready to impose severe time limits on the period of outside the room queries, if necessary, so as not to disrespect those who attend Town Meeting.”  

The Moderator will have no role in determining what questions are asked.

“It is my obligation to assure that Town Meeting is fair, open and efficient while making the most informed judgments it can, not to influence the judgment but to guide an open discussion so all citizens are best served,” suggested the Moderator. 

DiSalvo says that many have wondered why North Andover cannot conduct a virtual Town Meeting. 

“I have little doubt that such an experience will yet happen in generations hence but government practice and law does not yet allow the opportunity, however, that does not mean we cannot incrementally experience a bit of the future now,” maintained DiSalvo.  In his annual Moderator’s Message published in the Annual Town Warrant to all citizens, DiSalvo noted that there is current legislation filed before the Massachusetts legislature to allow remote voting at Town Meeting.