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Town Meeting: Let’s get creative

With a Special Town Meeting little more than three weeks away, now would be a good time for the Select Board and moderator to consider how to encourage the greatest possible turnout for debate and a vote on its four articles.

For the meeting to convene, Harvard’s town charter requires that 50 registered voters show up and sign in. The second session of 2022 Annual Town Meeting in October drew 160 citizens, only 3.6% of Harvard’s registered voters, adequate but disappointing.

It’s well known that controversy draws a crowd. Will the two financial articles on February’s warrant do the trick? If passed, each would add to homeowners’ fiscal 2024 tax bills, reason enough to come debate their merits.

It’s also true that well-organized special interest groups can have an outsized impact when attendance is low, but what’s the alternative?

The Press will do its best to ensure its readers are fully informed about what’s at stake with an in-depth analysis of each warrant article and our award-winning Warrant in Plain English.

The Select Board and town administrators could start, perhaps, by assuming more responsibility for a successful meeting. If child care cannot be provided in any given year by the Girl Scouts or another civic group, should that need simply go unaddressed? Could the town improve its effort to publicize what’s on the warrant, aside from posting a link on a page of its website? Proactive steps by the Select Board appear to be in order.

After years of experimenting with changes to the date and time of Town Meeting, and a move to two sessions to give separate consideration to financial and nonfinancial measures, maybe it’s time to get creative.

One town in Vermont, we read, provides free pie and coffee to attendees. Other towns—inspired by two years of virtual meetings and hearings during the pandemic—are experimenting with remote voting so citizens can participate from home. A citizen group at Devens this fall doubled turnout for their advisory committee elections by going door to door with voter registration forms, encouraging residents to fill them out and mail in their ballots. How about raffle tickets for those who attend, the winner receiving a gift certificate good for a free meal at a participating restaurant?

The Press would like to hear from you. Send us your ideas and we’ll publish the most promising and most novel in our pre-Town Meeting issue. Keep to 250 words and send your suggestions to editor@harvardpress.net.

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