About 40 people turned out for the Sandwich Charter Review Committee’s public forum this week to offer opinions about how town government should be run.
The majority of people who came to the microphone said they did not want Sandwich to change its Town Meeting format.
“I enjoy having my orange card,” said resident Mark A. Wiklund, a longtime member of the Sandwich Public Library Board of Trustees. “I’m not in favor.”
Mr. Wiklund, who summed up the prevailing sentiment of the crowd, was referring to colorful voting cards distributed to Town Meeting attendees that voters hold aloft during counted votes.
The charter review committee is advocating that Sandwich switch to a representative form of town government.
Committee members have offered several reasons for their stance. Among them are that issues at Town Meeting have become more complex; attendance has dwindled; and residents are not necessarily making informed choices.
“I’ve been personally disappointed with the level of probing questions and deep discussions at Town Meeting,” said Jonathan D. Fitch, a member of the charter review committee. “Some people are not even looking at the issues until they go to Town Meeting, but I do think they go with good intentions.”
Representative Town Meeting—for which several Massachusetts towns have opted—means only elected district representatives have the power to vote on warrant articles.
Some in the audience agreed with the committee.
John J. Casey of East Sandwich said he has lived in two communities that had adopted a representative form of government. He said the system worked well, with the representatives being generally well informed on the issues.
“It’s definitely worth pursuing,” Mr. Casey said. “I’m in favor of it.”
South Sandwich resident Ronald J. Hurley, who also serves on the board of health, said he was “sort of in favor” of the representative form of government.
“Town Meeting doesn’t work,” he said. “The turnout is ridiculously low. It’s worthwhile taking this further and looking at it.”
And then there were those who had not yet decided.
Among them was East Sandwich resident Kevin R. Sareault, who serves on the school board.
“I’m not convinced, but I’m open to seeing it fleshed out,” he said.
Daryl A. Crossman, who regularly attends and volunteers as a vote counter at Town Meeting with his wife, Nancy, said he wants things to stay the way they are.
“People do pay attention and listen,” Mr. Crossman said. “I like my vote. I want to keep my vote.”
Many attendees said they would hate to lose their ability to speak on topics at Town Meeting, but committee chairman David J. Sampson assured them they would not lose that privilege.
“Anyone can still get up and speak at Town Meeting,” Mr. Sampson said. “But only the representatives can vote.”
Mr. Sampson said after the meeting that the committee is looking at the big picture.
“One thing I would say, many at the microphone are concerned about preserving their individual votes,” Mr. Sampson said. “The role of the CRC is to consider what would best serve the entire community. It is important to consider the bigger picture when evaluating the pros and cons of this potential change.”
Other topics discussed at the Monday meeting were whether the town clerk should be elected or appointed, and whether the name of the town’s top governing body should be the “board of selectmen” or the “select board.”
The committee is recommending that the town clerk be appointed, as are all the other department heads. The committee is also suggesting that the name of the board of selectmen be modernized to “select board.”
Those topics generated far less discussion, since both measures would simply bring Sandwich into line with state standards and with the practices of other Cape Cod municipalities.
Town attorney John W. Giorgio has told the committee that the towns of Falmouth and Plymouth have switched to a representative Town Meeting. He suggested that if Sandwich were to consider such a change the number of representatives should be kept to less than 150 at the high end and 70 to 80 on the low end.
At a recent meeting, however, committee member Joseph R. Roche suggested that the town elect more than 400 representatives to ensure more-informed participation at Town Meetings.
Mr. Giorgio has suggested the committee set the number of representatives before bringing its recommendation to the selectmen and residents.
Mr. Giorgio said that generally speaking, representatives tend to be more familiar with the issues and able to discuss them in greater detail.
It remains unclear whether the selectmen would support such a change in format. The selectmen did not seem to favor the idea during a discussion in December, but no vote was taken.
The charter review committee is expected to discuss the issues brought up at the public forum at a future meeting. Mr. Sampson said the committee will bring its suggestions back to the selectmen in the coming weeks.
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