~ Submitted by William Knox
The Moderator is, as much as any Town official, the face of Town Meeting. Different members of the Select Board, Finance Committee, and other boards present the articles, but the Moderator is the constant. The Moderator presents no views on the various articles and makes no recommendations, and is instead a neutral arbiter of the rules of Town Meeting.
The authority granted the Moderator is substantial, and the expectation is that they will use that authority judiciously and fairly. Particularly after our last somewhat contentious Town election, where concerns were expressed about the level of transparency and fairness in Bedford’s government, the need for the Moderator to be seen as an even-handed judge was even more critical. Unfortunately, I believe our Moderator, Mr. Siegenthaler, fell well short of what was needed at this year’s Annual Town Meeting, especially given the heated nature of many of this year’s articles.
Inconsistent acceptance of motions and amendments from the floor and enforcement of time limitations and other rules was problematic, and the clear miscall of the vote for project 23-33 in Article 7 was a huge error.
To be sure, I don’t believe anything Mr. Siegenthaler did fell outside of that broad authority the Moderator holds, nor do I think that Mr. Siegenthaler was attempting to favor one side over the other.
But these mistakes can easily be perceived as attempts to do exactly that, particularly in our current local and national environment of suspicion of the motives of those who hold different political views. Mr. Siegenthaler has likely deepened the distrust in Bedford government and whether it is fair, and has diminished his capacity to be viewed as that just arbiter and the neutral face of Town Meeting that is required, especially in these increasingly divisive times.
I suggest that Mr. Siegenthaler address these issues in a public fashion (perhaps in a letter to the editor.a here or in some other forum) and describe what he will do to regain the confidence of all residents of the Town.
Note from the Opinion Editor: Mr. Knox is the spouse of Select Board member Margot Fleischman