, Gloucester, MA

April 16, 2013

Letter: Town Meeting and spirit of 'community'

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

I’ve participated in Rockport’s Town Meetings for 27 years, but never enjoyed one more than the Spring Meeting on Saturday, April 6, which was over by 2:30 p.m.

It wasn’t only the speed of the meeting that made it so enjoyable; it was the Town Meeting voters booklet which incorporated the warrant articles, Finance Committee reports, Planning Board information and other handouts.

It used to take awhile to move into the high school gym, picking up several individual handouts but this time, there was only the booklet and a bright orange vote card – and that was only the beginning.

In the front of the room near the podium, a large screen was used by town officials to highlight warrant articles and instead of waiting for someone to walk in front of the podium for the motions, there were microphones at the tables of Selectmen and Finance Committee.

All town officials should be commended for the work they did to make this meeting so enjoyable and easy to follow. They tried parts of it last fall at an evening meeting, and I found it a bit confusing; this time, it worked just about perfectly!

My first Town Meeting was in 1986 — the first time I realized what “democracy in action” really meant. Every resident had a chance to speak and, since I knew little about town politics and issues at that time, I listened carefully to people with knowledge on various subjects and voted accordingly.

It was not always easy — and occasionally embarrassing as I learned that, when it came to budget articles, things could change. I was one of the few at that meeting who stood up to cast a vote against a raise in the volunteer firemen’s stipend, and as I turned around, noticed most people were seated, including several uniformed firemen in the row behind me.

Of course, more experienced residents voted to support that raise and I finally understood that Finance Committee recommendations were not “cast in stone.”

In 1996, I was present at a meeting when a local innkeeper/resident asked “What kind of community are we?” in response to obvious resentment felt by some voters about tourism in general.

It seems to me that his question led to a broader problem. We are all rightfully concerned with our own needs, but often ignore the common interests of the town as a whole.

The answer to that innkeeper’s question depends on each one of us accepting a fundamental premise of “community” – what affects anyone in town somehow affects everyone in town.

I believe that’s what most of us felt as we voted on April 6.