Complaining about long meetings a tiresome tradition


To the Editor:

Thank you for crediting me with saint-like patience. However, I have some quibbles to share about your April 17th editorial titled “Town meetings shouldn’t be a snoozer.”

To begin with, a simple fact check: West Tisbury’s 2024 Annual Town Meeting ended before 10 pm. If “voters were growing anxious as the clock ticked toward 11 pm,” they were doing it in the comfort of their homes after a meeting that lasted less than four hours. During the pandemic, the West Tisbury Select Board began scheduling town meeting an hour earlier (6 pm) in order to avoid late nights. This turned out to be such a good idea that the practice has continued.

As you admit, it’s easy for a newspaper to pontificate. However, many of the solutions you propose are either impractical or are already in place.

“Have two meetings a year.” This already happens regularly. West Tisbury had a Special Town Meeting last fall.

“Push the meeting to a second night.” As you note, this is problematic because it’s hard to muster a quorum on the second night. It also opens a new can of worms: Reconsideration. It’s not unheard-of for voters on the second night to move to “reconsider” a vote taken on the first night. With different (and probably fewer) voters in attendance, there’s the distinct possibility that the work of the first meeting would be undone by the second.

Long discussion on town meeting floor is often the result of poorly prepared, thinly-vetted, or badly explained warrant articles veiled in bureaucratic or technical jargon. Town meeting runs long when voters bring concerns and suggestions to the meeting floor that should have been addressed weeks or months earlier. As a (now retired) moderator, I share voters’ frustration when a proposed bylaw or affordable housing plan has clearly not been through enough public hearings. Voters are right to raise questions, and it would be wrong for the moderator to cut off discussion.

Nobody likes a long town meeting. Not the voters, not the town officers and committee members, and certainly not the moderator. Complaining that town meetings are long and tiresome is a tradition as old as town meeting itself. Instead of reinforcing this time-worn reason for skipping town meeting, it would be refreshing if this editorial had urged voters to try a little harder, make a few more sacrifices, bring hard questions to the hearings and committee meetings where the warrant articles originate, and truly exercise their democratic rights while those rights still exist.


Dan Waters

West Tisbury