Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


May 15, 2014

Open Town Meeting proves frustrating, ineffective

Editor, Townsman:

As the legislative body of Andover, Town Meeting’s most important responsibility is to appropriate funds to run the town. Like Congress and the state Legislature, it should maintain effective “checks and balances” on the executive branch (the selectmen and School Committee). But our open Town Meeting falls woefully short of meeting that standard, and the result is increasing frustration felt by the decreasing number of residents still willing to participate.

Part of our frustration is that too often, there is too little information provided on key budget components. For example, the Finance Committee report noted that “collective bargaining agreements are the largest single driver of the annual increases in town and school operating budgets. ... The town’s compensation costs are growing at an unsustainable rate.”

Yet the Finance Committee report included no meaningful summary of the recently concluded teachers contract, and none was provided at Town Meeting. By law, Town Meeting can vote to approve or disapprove the funding for this contract only in the first year after it is signed. In subsequent years, it is required to approve funding for the contract.

Unlike many town meetings (and town and city councils) in other communities, Andover has never had a presentation and discussion of collective bargaining at Town Meeting — at least not in recent memory. That’s the reason I requested such a presentation prior to the vote on the school budget, and I was disappointed that a majority of those present were not interested.

Or perhaps they were too interested. Presumably, the 200 school employees and supporters who left the meeting immediately after the vote on the school budget would rather keep this information under wraps.

I supported the school budget, but it would have been nice to have more information to cast a more informed vote. By contrast, the OPEB information presented in the Finance Committee report and by Selectman Brian Major and Finance Committee member Peggy Kruse was clear, complete and well presented. The teachers contract is a much larger and far more significant part of the town budget and deserved at least as much information, questions and answers, and discussion.

If the School Committee and selectmen can’t trust Town Meeting to understand something this important and if an unrepresentative Town Meeting doesn’t care to hear about collective bargaining impacts on the budget, perhaps it is time for Andover to consider whether this form of government truly serves our best interests.

Richard Howe

3 Robandy Road

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