Why Attend Town Meeting?

November 14, 2005


North Andover is having its Special Town Meeting on December 5, 2005, yet everyone I speak to want to know why.

The meeting was initially scheduled so that voters could decide on whether or not to rezone the Lucent Technologies site now owned by Ozzy Properties. Ozzy Properties want to rezone the property to the state’s new Chapter 40R designation, which requires a vote at town meeting. The rezoning will allow for millions of dollars from the state for development of the site. However, because of delays in receiving fiscal and traffic impact studies, both Orit Goldstein, president of Ozzy Properties, and the Board of Selectmen have agreed to remove the warrant article until a later date.

There is even talk of having another Special Town Meeting in January or February. What a colossal waste of time and money. The December 5th Special Town Meeting will cost taxpayers between three and five thousand dollars. Selectman Donald Stewart predicts that only 111 people will show up, and that includes the town boards that have to.

When the Board of Selectmen voted to have a Special Town Meeting, the warrant opened up to allow any warrant article, including citizen petitions. One article submitted was Dr. Smith’s “lawn police” to regulate the aesthetics of people’s private property. Thankfully, Dr. Smith has asked Selectman Stewart to withdraw the article. Another article which did not make the warrant was to be submitted by the Finance Committee. That article called for the elimination of town-subsidized health insurance for elected officials. But because the Board of Selectmen did not support the article, it did not make the warrant.

Another citizen petition which did make the warrant was submitted by Lisa Hunter and others. This article calls for the adoption of Massachusetts General Law, Ch. 71, Section 71E, Schoolhouses. Sources close to school Superintendent Harutunian say that he is behind this article.

The article sets up a revolving fund for the school committee. It allows for the town of North Andover to set up a separate account for monies received by the school committee in connection with adult education, continuing education programs, summer school, and community school programs.

The monies may then be expended by the school committee without further appropriation for the purposes of the programs from which money was received. To date, neither the Finance Committee nor the Board of Selectmen has voted on this article. But monies now received from such school programs are put back into the general fund for appropriation and approval by the voters at town meeting

This article is certain to pass, since the only voters who attend town meetings are the special interest groups for the schools. This means less money in the general fund in future fiscal years and more fighting at town meeting over the division of the town budget. At a typical Annual Town Meeting, like in May 2004, there were three nights of the meeting in which the last two nights only 275 voters attended. That figure amounts to a paltry 1.7 percent of the town’s registered voters deciding the town’s business

Compare this to the typical 25-27 percent of voters who turn out at a spring town election. I think it is time for North Andover to seriously think about getting rid of all Special Town Meetings. December 5, 2005 7pm at North Andover High School