Letter: Reflections on the Upcoming Caucus, Election and Town Meeting

Resident Isabella Jancourtz offers some thoughts on the upcoming political events in Weston in this letter to Weston Patch.

Weston's town caucus is coming up on Monday, March 11, and I'm looking forward to seeing who's running. Of course, you don't have to attend the caucus to be on the ballot. You may, instead, collect 50 or more signatures of your fellow voters and file them with the town clerk by March 22.

Unfortunately, attending the caucus may not tell you much about the people running because the tradition is for them not to speak, but to be nominated by a friend. That may have worked well back when everybody knew everybody else in Weston, but not so much these days. I hope we start a new tradition this year at the caucus, actually seeing and hearing from the candidates before we vote for them.

We discussed this issue at the now disbanded Weston Town Meeting Advisory Committee and learned that there is no reason why a candidate could not either nominate himself or speak for herself prior to the vote of the caucus. So, please step up to nominate and/or speak for yourself, if you wish. We could use some new candidates to vote for both at the caucus and at the town election on Saturday, May 11. It would be great to have a choice for every office.

At our Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 13, we will be voting on several really important matters, including citizen's petitions  As a member of Weston Deer Friends, I hope that my fellow voters will approve a ban on hunting on town owned land. There has always been hunting on private land in Weston.  But town forests are for everyone to enjoy in peace and safety, and the selectmen's decision to allow bow hunting of deer this past season has seriously interfered with that.

As a voter concerned with the poor level of communication in town government, I have submitted my own citizen's petition, which amends Article II of the General By-Law by adding a new section 15:

     "The first 10 minutes of each meeting of every Town of Weston board and committee shall be available for resident questions and comments. Draft minutes of each such meeting shall be posted on the Town of Weston website within 10 days of the meeting."

The selectmen have been devoting the first 10 minutes of their meetings to resident comments lately, with great success in my view. Although experienced and effective chairs welcome visitors and their input, some town committees do not do this, as it is not required by the Open Meeting Law or by our own by-laws. 

For example, I have attended meetings of the Affordable Housing Trust, where the chairperson did not provide any opportunity for the neighbors in attendance to ask questions about the Warren Avenue Project. At one meeting, she even stifled a fellow Trust member's effort to give us a chance to speak, when he asked us if we had any questions. If Town Meeting approves my suggested amendment, this won't be happening any more.

Weston voters who do not attend the various meetings in town are left in the dark for months because of the failure of various boards to post minutes in a timely fashion. For example, as of February 25, the last available minutes for a meeting of the Board of Selectmen are from the November 27 meeting.  The selectmen have met 6 times since then, but there is no record on the town website to inform the voter of what has happened at these meetings, including any votes taken. Draft minutes are approved by a vote of the board at a subsequent meeting and then the approved minutes are posted on the town website, but there are no actual time limits for this.

If draft minutes were posted within 10 days of a meeting, at least we voters would know of decisions which affect us.  That way, not only would the various boards have the chance to review the draft minutes in advance of their approval, so would the voters. 

If, for example, the selectmen had posted draft minutes of their Sept. 11, 2012 meeting, an alert voter might have notified secretary Ed Coburn that he had failed to record chairman Mike Harrity's promise to provide plenty of opportunities for the voters to discuss the Urbanica proposal for the Josiah Smith Tavern and Old Library, when he abruptly ended our first public hearing in the town hall auditorium, after only 20 minutes for voters' questions, to go downstairs to confer at length with JST&OL consultant Steve Cecil.

There have of course been zero opportunities for public discussion of the Urbanica proposal provided by the selectmen since then, although there is a March 9 forum at the library, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.  If this proposal for the JST&OL goes down in flames like the last one, it will once again be in large part because the voters of Weston were not included as they should have been in the decision-making process. 

Isabella Jancourtz                          

Dr. Peter Hill February 26, 2013 at 12:49 PM
I agree that minutes should be posted promptly after a meeting for all of the town to see. I am proud to say that as a member of the Traffic and Sidewalk Committee we DO post our minutes promptly after they are approved, we do not post draft minutes though, but approved minutes once reviewed and we do have public comments at the beginning of our meetings. I do think only approved minutes should be posted and not draft minutes.
Derek Chilvers February 27, 2013 at 02:15 AM
As usual Isabella Jancourtz has hit all the right nails squarely on the head. Bravo and thank you.


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