LIVERMORE — After former selectperson Tom Gould raised questions about the timing of a Citizens’ Initiative and its wording on the June 8 referendum ballot, the change in town meeting style will be discussed at a future Selectpersons meeting.

“Citizens’ Initiative: Do you accept the secret ballot process of voting as set forth in Title 30-A M.R.S. §2528 (4) for the nomination and election of selectmen, Town Clerk and school committee members and as also set forth in Title 30-A M.R.S. §2258 (5) for the consideration of referendum questions,” Article 18 on the ballot read.

Of 153 ballots cast, there were 118 yes and 34 no votes, Town Clerk Renda Guild said June 8 after the ballots had been counted.

With the article’s passage, future annual Town Meetings are to be held by referendum ballot vote instead of the in-person ‘town hall’ style held prior to COVID-19.

Last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Town Meeting was held by referendum vote with fewer voting booths and social distancing required. Selectpersons initially planned to hold a town hall style Town Meeting this year, but went with the referendum ballot option after hearing from citizens.

Accusing anyone of bad faith was not the intent, Gould told Selectpersons Tuesday.

“Regarding doing away with town hall meetings, I don’t think it was done properly, there wasn’t enough transparency and I don’t think it was legal,” he noted. “I thought the proper thing was to talk to the board, see where you are and how you assessed this.

“I want to make sure you’re aware of the magnitude of this because we just did away with a century old tradition of this town, got rid of the last vestige of democracy in our town,” Gould continued.

The issue was raised at Town Meeting three years ago, he said. “When the people understood what they were voting on it was soundly defeated.

“Slipping this in a secret vote, I don’t think was the right way to do it,” Gould continued. “I’m not alone in this. A dozen or so people I’ve spoken to, not in this room, are unanimously surprised by the way it happened and disappointed that it happened.”

As a member of the Budget Committee, Gould said he had stressed during budget deliberations that his votes were dependent upon a town hall forum. Other committee members felt similarly, he said.

“Everybody here that was there was aware of that,” Gould noted. “That was taken away from us. An email or text would have been nice. I would have liked to have known about it instead of the day of voting.”

The Citizens’ Initiative was filed on the last day it could have been filed, Administrative Assistant Aaron Miller said.

Being put in the ballot on the last day doesn’t lend itself to transparency, Gould said. He wanted to know if the board was open to revisiting the issue. Jay votes annually on the Town Meeting format, which he thought was a good idea.

“More than 100 people voted to do it,” Selectperson Scott Richmond said.

“There was nothing in the Citizens’ Initiative that actually explained Town Meeting was going away,” Selectperson Tracey Martin said. “I think a lot of people had no idea what they were voting for.”

More people are participating in voting by ballot than town meetings, Selectperson Brett Deyling said. He asked Gould if he knew about the meeting prior to the vote where all of the ballot initiatives were discussed. Gould said he didn’t.

“There needs to be more transparency on that meeting,” Deyling said. That meeting should be in-person but was held via Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions, he noted. Basically that’s the town meeting to discuss the articles, then voting is done a week later, he added.

The warrant has already been signed so there is no ability to have discussions then change articles at that meeting, Miller said.

Putting the article on the November ballot as a well-worded question was suggested by Martin.

“It’s already voted on,” Richmond said. “We don’t have that authority.”

“I disagree,” Martin responded. “That’s precisely what the Select Board is for.”

Town Meeting next April will be by referendum ballot, that’s already been voted on, Miller noted.

In talking with people at the transfer station, more people were in favor of the referendum style, Deyling said.

“Meetings are four hours long, people don’t like to sit there that long to be a part of democracy,” he said. “I’d rather have the town hall style but after talking with people I had to go with the way the town wanted to go. It doesn’t matter what I wanted, it’s not for me to say, that’s why I changed my vote.”

“I appreciate the fact you can vote without everyone knowing how you voted,” Selectperson Randy Ouellette said. “I like that privacy because there is a lot of intimidation when in an open forum.”

Once an article is on the ballot it can’t be adjusted, resident Tim Cox said. As a taxpayer he likes the ability to change budgetary amounts.

Miller will check with the town’s attorney on the matter.

The public can attend Select Board and Budget Committee meetings.

“There are opportunities to be part of town government, come and voice opinions,” Deyling said. “I would love to have more community input. People don’t show up, aren’t engaged with community government.”

 

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