Your recent editorial and subsequent letters commenting on Town Meeting caused me to reflect on the institution. Though I was not able to be present at this year’s Town Meeting, I have regularly attended for more than 30 years. In that time, I have been both pleased and frustrated with the process.
But in the long run, I would not for a moment consider changing the system. Towns with a representative Town Meeting have no better record of informed decisions that does Andover with its open Town Meeting. I cannot believe for a moment, as one letter writer suggested, that 180 members of an Andover representative Town Meeting would attend all the budget hearings that go on between October and May each year.
There seem to be two general criticisms of the open Town Meeting: one, that too few voters attend, and two, that the voters are uninformed. I disagree with both assumptions.
Yes, attendance is low, but it is undeniably true that a core of voters attend year after year, often ask informed questions, challenge speakers and town officials, and intelligently debate points of view. Many of them have indeed followed the various presentations and debates of the issues, pro and con, of the topics under discussion.
That hard core of regular voters in fact constitute a representative Town Meeting: they are representative of those who care enough about their community to give up two or three evenings a year to attend to its affairs. Many of them regularly attend, or watch on TV, meetings of the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee, School Committee, Planning Board or other community organizations.
Attendance is frequently woefully low in town elections, whether local, state or even national, yet no one suggests abandoning our elected system of government. The fact is that those who refuse or neglect to attend Town Meeting voluntarily give up their rights of citizenship, and consequently their right to complain about decisions made there.