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David Scribner
Voters at the Great Barrington annual town meeting on May 7 lift yellow cards to indicate their support for a ban on single-use plastic water bottles. The measure passed.

Nonvoters allowed to attend and speak at Monday’s special town meeting

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By Thursday, Aug 2, 2018 News 3

Great Barrington — Regarding the procedure for Monday’s special town meeting, The Edge has just received the following email from town clerk Marie Ryan’s office:

“The Town of Great Barrington encourages all Great Barrington voters to participate in its Town Meeting government. Town Meeting is the legislative assembly where the town’s voters make decisions. 

Because it is essential that Great Barrington voters can participate, registered voters will be admitted first to the Special Town Meeting on Monday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. at Monument Mountain Regional High School. There will be an overflow room for this meeting, in case the main hall fills up.

Non-voters who wish to attend or speak at the meeting must seek permission in advance by contacting the Town Clerk via email, mryan@townofgb.org, or by phone, 528-1619 ext 3. She will forward requests to the Town Moderator for his consideration.

Non-voters will be seated after voters are admitted. Non-voters may only address the town meeting with advance permission from the Town Moderator.”

Great Barrington town moderator Michael Wise at the town’s May 7 annual town meeting. Photo: David Scribner

In an interview, town moderator Michael Wise said, contrary to what was recently stated in an Edge article by Monument Mountain Regional High School student Claudia Maurino, nonvoters (including minors and nonresidents) are allowed to attend and speak if they obtain permission. The statement from the clerk’s office, therefore, is merely a reiteration of an existing policy.

“The policy has always been that nonvoters are allowed to be admitted and speak if they get permission from the moderator in advance,” Wise told the Edge. “It has been in the town bylaws, Chapter 41-7, for a long time.”

Wise said he has typically granted that permission to people who have requested it in advance of the meeting. Because a number of Great Barrington voters had not been able to address the annual town meeting in May about the plastic water bottle ban, Wise said he told the person who made the request last week that, at Monday’s meeting, he would recognize Great Barrington voters first.

Wise said he is going try a different set-up for the discussion of the proposed repeal of the plastic water bottle ban. It will be an attempt, he said, “to find a way to maintain balance in the debate.”

Wise will ask people opposed to the proposed repeal to line up on one side of the microphone and those who support the repeal to line up on the other. The speakers will then alternate.

In his research, Wise said he found that some Massachusetts towns have used this approach, though typically with two microphones. He has been told by Community Television for the Southern Berkshires, the cable-access station televising the meeting, that two microphones for the audience are not practical, so there will be one with a line of speakers on either side.

The issue of whether nonvoters will be allowed to speak has taken on increased importance because a trio of nonvoting Monument students made an impassioned presentation at the May town meeting in support of the plastic water bottle ban. And some of the organizers of the petition to get the item on the warrant are from Egremont.

The landscape at the residentally zoned 11 Roger Road, owned by Gary J. O’Brien and GJO LLC, was at some point altered to accomodate an extensive trucking operation.

The special town meeting for Monday, Aug. 6, has been called for four different purposes:

  • The proposed repeal of the plastic water bottle ban.
  • The proposed purchase of 11 Roger Road for $298,000.
  • The proposed expenditure of $20,000 in emergency Community Preservation Act funds to replace the chimneys on Town Hall.
  • The proposed borrowing of $65,000 for construction work needed to complete the transfer station garage project.

Click here to view the warrant.


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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. W.C. says:

    Why do we need to do this? It will only make what will be a long, long meeting even longer. I’m all for free speech but if you can’t vote well you can’t vote.

    1. Jerry says:

      So in other words you are not all for free speech, particularly if it inconveniences you.

  2. Steve Farina says:

    If turnout is as high as expected (which would be GREAT) will there be a microphone and camera in the “overflow” room, or will registered voters in the that room be expected to have to walk to the main room to make a comment?
    If we truly expect this size turnout, accommodations should be made accordingly, including a large simulcast video screen, microphone, and video recording capability in the overflow area.
    If we expect it, let’s prepare in advance, rather than apologize after. Apparently this is an important enough issue if we have more people show up about water bottles than we do about nearly $30Million of budget approvals.

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