Some months ago (June 26 2013) I happened to see a strange assemblage of people and inquired what they may all be doing together and I was informed that it was the regular “Department Head’s Meeting” and that they were meeting with the Town Moderator.
That struck me as odd, after all, the Town Moderator’s primary function is running the Town Meetings (and voting to appoint members to some Boards and Committees); why would the Moderator be meeting with the Department Heads?
So I requested (via a public records request) that Terri provide me with a copy of her usual meeting notes from Department Head’s meetings and I promptly received this.
Here are some extracts for your reading pleasure, you can read the complete document here.
1. Move the Moderator’s podium to the middle of the stage. This will allow the Moderator to see all locations equally. In addition, this will have the subtle effect of conveying that the Moderator is in charge of thee meeting.
Yes, anyone who attended the last meeting would have realized that no one had control of the meeting. But if all it took was to put the Moderator in the middle of the stage, that would be so nice. So at the next Town Meeting, if you see the moderator in the middle of the screen, remember to subtly recognize that he (or she) is in control.
2. Place microphone(s) for the audience on the floor. Those wishing to speak should be invited to come up to those microphones. This will relieve the Moderator from having the burden of seeing everyone. No one will be angry that they are not recognized. It also removes the potential bias and control of the volunteers who are carrying the microphones.
Several things come to mind.
- It must be a great burden standing at a lectern and having to “see everyone”. Maybe a pair of binoculars would be a better solution?
- I wonder whether it is better to place a “great burden” on the moderator or to instead place the burden on the people who wish to comment.
- What bias are we talking about? For the last two ATM’s I was one of the two people who lugged the microphone around. And I gave it to whoever the Moderator pointed to. And when I wanted to say something, I would request the Moderator’s permission before saying anything.
3. Limit the number of questions asked by the same person. Dick had already taken measures to deal with this issue, however if the microphone is on the floor, speakers could form a line and Dick could state that they are each limited to 1 question; if they have a second question, he can direct them to go to the back of the line. This gives a variety of speakers a chance; it also gives the Moderator an idea of how many more people are waiting to speak.
I wonder what gives the moderator the authority to limit the number of questions a person may ask. According to both Town Meeting Time and Robert’s Rules, if a person wishes to speak, they should only do so when the person controlling the meeting gives them the permission to do so. But, if a person who has been recognized, he or she should be allowed to speak as long as they want to. The person is a registered voter and their point of view should (in fairness) be heard. Now, if the Moderator knew about Robert’s Rules (which the first recommendation above questions in fair measure), he would recognize the stupidity of this move.
There are procedural mechanisms in place to prevent this already. Robert’s Rules stipulates (and Town Meeting Time has similar provisions) that any member of the assembly may move the question at any point in time and if the motion is seconded and the required number of members of the assembly vote to move the question, debate is automatically terminated on the main motion!
5. Moderator should know most of the rules of town meeting process. If unsure, he should know how to look it up quickly in “Town Meeting Times.” He can call for a quick 1-2 minute break in these instances.
First, the Moderator should know ALL the rules of the Town Meeting process. Really, it isn’t that hard. And the book is called “Town Meeting Time”. Town Meeting Times is the newspaper that makes fun of the moderator the day after the meeting.
6. Town Counsel should be ready at all times to back up the Moderator; he should be assertive and not hesitate to speak and/or have a brief conference with the Moderator when necessary.
The procedures for running a Town Meeting are stipulated in a book, Town Meeting Time. The general rules of order are prescribed by Robert’s Rules of Order. Neither is a matter of the law so I wonder what expertise Town Counsel is supposed to be bringing here.
7. The Moderator should hold a pre-meeting the week before Town Meeting with all stakeholders … During this meeting, each article should be discussed briefly:
- Who are the likely opponents and what are they likely to say?
Really, there is to be a meeting ahead of the Town Meeting where the Moderator will meet with Chair’s of Selectmen, Finance Committee, and others to discuss “likely opponents and what they are likely to say”? Oh, and we are to have Town Counsel there (at tax payers expense) to do what?
8. If a “motion to table” or “move the question” is made, the Moderator should first explain to Town Meeting what this means (if it passes, he will have to cut off debate and call for an immediate vote) and then call for the vote.
Maybe have a “pre-meeting” to explain this to the moderator first?
It seems like the objective of all of these suggestions is to make the Moderator not look as silly when he is unable to run a meeting. These silly recommendations will only serve to rig the meeting, and make it appear less of an “open” meeting. The real solution is to get a moderator who is competent, one who knows ALL the rules. We need a moderator who realizes that his (or her) role at the meeting is to facilitate the meeting, not a forum where he (or she) can demonstrate great oratory prowess (or lack thereof).