By Betsey Anderson, Town Moderator
Bedford will hold its Annual Town Meeting on Monday, April 1st at 7:30 PM in the Bedford High School Auditorium. Your participation is important! If you have never attended Town Meeting before, consider coming on Monday April 1st. It is interesting, can be entertaining, and is an important part of our life in Bedford, Massachusetts. Each voter has the opportunity to express his or her opinion on the important decisions facing the town and to impact the future of Bedford. Additional sessions will be held Tuesday, April 2nd and Monday, April 8th if needed.
Town Meetings are a New England tradition dating back to colonial times and one of the purest forms of democracy. Bedford’s form of government, established in its Charter, is known as Selectmen-Open Town Meeting.
A warrant for the Town Meeting is posted at the Town Hall and at least three other places in Town. In addition, a warrant report is mailed to every household in Bedford prior to the meeting. The warrant report includes each article that will be voted on at Town Meeting, a description of the purpose of the article, recommendations from the Selectmen, Finance Committee and other boards, and the tax impact, if any, if the article is passed. Detailed reports from the Finance Committee and Capital Expenditure Committee are also included.
The 2013 Annual Town Meeting will vote on the budget for the fiscal 2014 budget, covering the year beginning on July 1, 2013 and ending on June 30, 2014. The proposed budget includes salaries and other expenses for all Town departments, including Public Safety, Public Works, Schools, Finance, Health, Planning, Building, the Conservation Commission, and the Bedford Public Library, plus Board of Selectmen expenses. Town Meeting will also vote on changes to the general by-laws, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) budget, and the funding of post-employment benefits. This year the Town Meeting will consider 10 amendments to the Sign Bylaw. Other proposed bylaw amendments will address consolidation of housing-related committees, the requirements of the Town’s water system, and an update to the Salary Administration Plan Bylaw to make it consistent with the Charter and other bylaws. Proposed capital projects, totaling $2.8 million funded from the tax levy and issuance of bonds, include replacement of capital equipment, energy efficiency projects, purchase of a new ladder truck for the Fire Department and capital maintenance of school facilities.
Town Meeting is conducted according to rules and procedures that are established in the Charter and Town Bylaws. Bedford also uses Town Meeting Time, a guide to town meeting procedures published by the Massachusetts Moderators Association, and adheres to established customs of the Town. A copy of the bylaw relating to Town Meeting is included in the warrant report, as are the Guidelines for Civil Discourse. These rules are not difficult to learn, and voters can always ask questions about procedures. The Town Moderator conducts the meeting, and a quorum of 100 voters must be present to start the meeting.
For each article considered at Town Meeting a member of the Selectmen, Finance Committee or appropriate board makes a motion. It may be exactly as printed in the warrant or somewhat different based on more current information. After the motion is seconded, the mover makes a presentation explaining the purpose of the article. Following the presentation, the Selectmen, Finance Committee and others make recommendations as to whether they support or oppose the article. Discussion by voters follows. Often this includes questions as well as the statement of opinions in favor of or opposed to the article. Most motions can be amended and amendments can be proposed at this time. The Moderator then calls for a vote, which may be a voice vote, a counted vote or occasionally a secret ballot.
Article 2 of the warrant establishes debate rules including time limits. These may be waived by a majority vote if the presentation or discussion requires more than ten or five minutes respectively. It should be noted that amendments to the General Bylaws cannot be amended except to correct typographical errors. Such amendments require a majority vote to pass.
Come join in direct democracy in action!