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UPDATED April 24: So, what is Town Meeting, and why should Arlington residents care about it? 

According to Arlington's website, "Town Meeting is the Legislative branch of Arlington. It is made up of 252 representatives from 21 precincts [commonly referred to as "Town Meeting members."] It is governed by the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43A, Standard Form of Representative Town Meeting Government and the Town of Arlington Bylaw Title I- General Government, Article 1."

Having started at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, and due to run twice weekly for as long as necessary, it is about as close to direct democracy as one can get except for annual elections open to the general public. It's been there since the beginning -- having its origins in Colonial times -- in New England, and also exists in Michigan and Minnesota, but it but has no counterpart in many other U.S. states. It should be viewable via ACMi television on all three of the town's cable providers and also livestreamed online, here>>

It's information-heavy, fast-paced and, sometimes, boistrous and fractious, with people of differing viewpoints arguing for or against "articles" on the "warrant" that have the potential to change the bylaws that govern, and that therefore affect the lives of, Arlington's fewer than 47,000 residents.

This year members face 66 articles. A few are formalities and are archaic, such as the early-on requirement to appoint a "measurer of wood and bark." They are voted on in number order, except for when they aren't. Town Meeting members can and do file substitute motions, sometimes several on a single article.

This year the articles cover such disparate subjects as artificial turf, apartment-dwellers' rights to pets and so on. Twenty deal with zoning, which generally tends to be a hot-button topic. Nearly two dozen have to do with appropriations for various town needs. Three that may be among the most contentious are Article 22, proposing to lower the voting age in municipal elections to 16; and Article 14, seeking to prevent protesters from demonstrating in front of a particular private residence.

2 citizen-brought resolutionslogo for Town of Arlington MA

The Town of Arlington has a link-heavy page specifically about Town Meeting. Among other things, it has a frequently updated link to the annotated warrant (a detailed and augmented list of the articles, most either submitted by a government official or advanced by a group of residents) and a "tracker" or specialized spreadsheet that also is supposed to be kept up in real time.

There are guidelines and forms; downloadable templates for those for amending the original motion and for substituting an alternate version to the original motion; historical records of previous Town Meetings; and ways to see emails, updates and announcements.

For the third year in a row, Greg Christiana, as town moderator, will be in charge of keeping things running in as orderly, courteous and productive a manner as is possible when democracy is being done.

Two resolutions are expected to come up in early May: Article 66, asking that Town Meeting take a stand to demand better public transportation, and Special Town Meeting Article 5, calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, release of all hostages and other actions in Palestine and Israel.

Here is what Christiana recently announced concerning them: "Following the same practice as last year's Town Meeting, Resolutions (i.e. ATM Article 66 and STM Article 5) will be allowed two speakers – one proponent and one opponent – plus proponents of any substantial subsidiary motions approved in advance, at the discretion of the Moderator. For Citizen Petition Resolutions, priority will be given to the petitioner of the Resolution in selecting the proponent who speaks in favor. Anyone interested in being considered to speak as the proponent or opponent of a Resolution should contact the Town Moderator."

'Practice run' held Tuesday

Some believe that Town Meeting is important enough that preparation is warranted (pun intended) and so therefore, for those who don't mind attending one more postdinner meeting, a virtual "block party" held Tuesday night  and accessible via this link

As it says on the town website, "Envision Arlington's Civic Engagement Group invites everyone to participate in this first (and perhaps only) 'Night Before Town Meeting Virtual Block Party.' This is an opportunity to discuss the articles with Town Meeting Members and other attendees. You can choose an initial room/topic when you register, or you can wait to decide when you join. Changing to different breakout rooms (topics) will be possible. The goal is to mimic an in-person event as much as possible. It's an experiment in civic engagement. Let's see what happens!"

Survey still ongoing about 'hybrid'

Meanwhile, the Hybrid Town Meeting Study Committee is conducting a survey of residents about the potential usefulness of a hybrid Town Meeting in future years. The study committee, created by a vote of a previous Town Meeting, is examining the options and requirements for conducting Town Meeting with both in-person and remote participation, as has sometimes been used in previous years. Residents may answer a survey about to what extent they view the current in-person-only Town Meeting format as a barrier to their participation -- and whether the ability to participate remotely would increase their interest in serving on Town Meeting.

Town Meeting in recent years has been live-streamed by local cable television station ACMi, so it can be viewed remotely. However, meeting members themselves are required to come to Town Hall to vote and otherwise take part in the proceedings. The deadline for responding to the survey is May 31.

This news analysis by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Tuesday, April 23, 2024, based on information from the town website. It was updated Wednesday, April 24, to add a link to online streaming, and Thursday, April 25, for time/date references and word-smithing.