Sandwich Town Moderator Garry Blank owes all Town Meeting voters an apology, hopefully, followed by resignation from his elected office. At the Sandwich Town Meeting held on Monday, November 15, his disregard for following town bylaws (Section 1.30 Rules of Order “A question of order shall be decided by the Moderator per Robert’s Rule of Order”) to ensure a fair democratic process was stunning.
During the beginning of the meeting, following a voice vote on whether to allow nonresidents to speak, it was clear that the voice of attendees who chose not to wear a mask was an unfair voting advantage over those who wore masks. The designated “mask-free” section was also in the upper rows, with sound carrying differently than the more-open acoustics of the lower level. It was evident that anybody masked essentially had less of a voice and thus less of a vote. In our democracy, all votes count equally.
When discussion began on Article 1, Jonathan Finn made a clear public appeal from the voter’s podium that all votes that evening should be by voting card—and not voice. Mr. Blank had no interest in listening and proved this when he responded with a statement that had nothing to do with the comments or motion. All this, just seconds after he encouraged voters to listen and be respectful. Apparently, that doesn’t hold true for our elected moderator. Mr. Blank scolded Jonathan, saying that he could “speak no longer” and that he was overruling the motion because he “disagreed.”
After leaving the podium the Reverend Tina Walker-Morin of First Church Sandwich reiterated Jonathan’s comments and made a formal motion that all votes that evening be by card. Mr. Blank ignored her statement and ordered her to “speak no longer,” said that she was “out of order,” and then stated that he wanted Ms. Walker-Morin “removed from the auditorium.” It was pompous, rude, and dismissive of our Town Meeting democracy—and every voter in attendance. And even more egregiously, it goes against our town’s agreed-upon rules of order. Ultimately, the town lawyer made Mr. Blank honor the motion, and a card vote was held—with voters rejecting Mr. Blank’s decrees.
Additionally, throughout the night, Mr. Blank continually referred to several speakers at the podiums by name, showing either intentional or unintentional bias, rather than following Robert’s Rules and simply acknowledging the speaker and giving them the floor. Furthermore, individuals were allowed to speak twice before some could speak for the first time, again going against our agreed-upon rules of order. These are basic and commonly known practices that any moderator should be well aware of and trained to execute.
Then later in the meeting, Mr. Blank stopped discussion of the final warrant item when he allowed a voter to cut the queue by recognizing him to speak at a microphone traditionally used for officials and presenters. This microphone has never been used during discussion, as evidenced by the long line at the podium. Whether these speakers were speaking for or against the warrant item, they deserved our time and Mr. Blank’s respect. They got neither.
Sandwich Town Meetings under Mr. Blank’s skills have often been a hotbed of confusion. While it’s a difficult job, we need a moderator who keeps meetings moving, respects town voters, and clearly explains what they are voting for. It’s time for a change. Sandwich Town Meeting voters deserve a moderator that has full knowledge of town bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order and, when unsure of how to proceed, checks in with the parliamentarian (the town lawyer). Most importantly, the moderator needs fundamental respect for democracy and those that come out to participate.
Jonathan D. Finn
Grand Oak Drive