Why isn’t the Charter being followed?

As I’ve explained in earlier posts, I ran for the select board in order to get public discussion and debate going around the issue of committing to a strategy of regionalization. However, I was stymied by the lack of opportunity to engage in debate and discussions. First, the town made no provision to bring information about folks running for office to the public’s attention. There was no opportunity provided for us to have space on the town website to make our case or even to provide links to our blogs, email addresses, or phone numbers, much less a position paper or resume. The Valley News and other media outlets gave the barest coverage to Hartford’s town meeting, with just 2 articles in the Valley News, the second of which gave the wrong date for the election (the correction published a few days later was effectively invisible).

Worst of all, the Select Board, School Board and Town Clerk failed to follow the law — our Municipal Charter — which stipulates that the Town should have a standing committee planning Town Meeting. Here’s what our Charter says:

“Standing town/school district meeting committee. Responsibility for organization, (including comfort, presentation, publicity, program, refreshments, entertainment), budget discussion/candidates night meeting and town/school district meeting, other than as stated in this chapter and state statute, shall rest with a committee of five registered voters of the town. Appointing authority by: Town Clerk-one for two years; Selectboard-one for two years, one for three years; School District-one for two years, one for three years. The appointing authority may work with the committee but may not self appoint.”

The Board of Selectmen has never appointed anyone to this committee.

The School Board has never appointed anyone to this committee.

The Town Clerk has never appointed anyone to this committee.

In defense of the Select Board, they report that they have asked people and have been turned down. However, in the reports of the Selectboard, School Board and Town Clerk no mention is made of any difficulty in this regard.

The only notice that the positions are open is a list on a piece of paper slapped on the door of town hall and replicated on the Boards and Commissions page of the website. There isn’t any date, there’s no information as to how many people are still needed, and there hasn’t been any effort to stimulate interest by engaging the public through op-ed pieces by town officers or the town manager or the town clerk, nor has there been any posting to the hartford@lists.valley.net listserv, nor has there been any outreach to various citizen groups. The only conclusion one can draw is that the community of people who respond to pieces of paper slapped on the door of Town Hall is no longer interested in participating in local government.

Meanwhile, there are hundreds of us who engage in civic activity in alternative arenas, where email, blogs, websites, twitter, facebook and the rest stitch together vibrant communities of interest. This subset of the Hartford population is invisible to the current Hartford govenment, no matter how much they may like the idea of a creative economy and all that.

But, I digress. Let’s return to the original subject matter: the inability to get a useful debate on the merits of taking a strongly proactive approach to regionalization as a way of reducing the tax burden and creating jobs in Hartford. At a minimum, I was counting on the pre-town meeting as a place where a vigorous debate would be stimulated. Instead, the budget presentations took an hour, then questions from the audience followed, with repetitive dialogs on the same topic consuming nearly 50 minutes of the second hourĀ  (schools, the 500K Barth lost track of and LaPlante wasn’t on top of; town, the parking lot across from the Briggs building) . Lacking a moderator, the speakers were called upon to speak and once each had their say, the meeting was ended. No Q&A; no debate. The reporters had fled in boredom sometime earlier. CATV failed to get the first part of the meeting on for 2 days, the candidate speeches for 5. All in all it was, in my opinion, a complete failure of the town government’s duty to live up to the letter and the spirit of the Charter.

We need to do better in the next election cycle.

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I am still reeling from the feeling of extreme confusion yesterday’s election presented to me and to so many of my fellow voters with whom I have spoken.

First of all, many people I talked to had simply not received the “Important Town Meeting Information” green postcard in the mail–some therefore missed the vote entirely, while others caught that it was voting day by driving by the big “voting today” sign out in front of the high school. Upon reflection, I realized that there are six registered voters at my address–and yet I was the only one to have received a card. How could that be?

I also find it remarkable that no candidate information had been sent to voters in town–and perusing the Valley News did not help me get a very clear picture of exactly who was running for what seats or what issues would be coming up for election. In fact, many people do not subscribe to the Valley News. What was missing was a comprehensive candidate-by-candidate listing with positions given by each candidate on town issues so that the voter could compare and decide who would be their next representatives. I now realize with perfect hindsight that this should have been mailed to each household–especially given that the whole structure of town meeting days went through a change last year, so it was even more critical to help people adapt to the new schedule which I can confidently say is still not clearly understood by many Hartford voters.

What I witnessed on voting day was a dazzling display of puzzled, uninformed voters– those lucky enough to have received the green postcard were there, but comments made by many clearly showed a lack of voter preparation–through what I believe is no fault of their own. I have to question the legitimacy of this election given the circumstances– poor voter information and low turnout– and I hope to never witness an election day like this again.

I confirmed with Hunter that the town sent them out using the voter list. It may be that some of the neighbors were not registered to vote.

Still, it doesn’t change your very accurate description of how the switch to all-balloting has resulted in some confusion over dates and less opportunity to find out about candidates.

Last year I know at least tow QLLA people – Bill Krein and Bob O’Leary – who called the Town Clerk to volunteer to serve on a Town Meeting Committee – no response. How can the town get away with not following the Charter that was voted on by the townspeople?

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