Monday's Special Town Meeting was- based upon the numbers of those in attendance - quite significant in terms of the discussions undertaken and the votes counted. The final numbers - as certified by the Town Clerk - for attendance at Monday's (12/05/11) Special Town Meeting were 343 registered voters, which represents just slightly north of 5% of the total registered voters as of 11-25-11 (cutoff date to be eligible) which stands at 6451 voters.
By way of comparison, the final attendance numbers at the adjourned Special Town Meeting of 11/07/11 were 213 registered voters in attendance. Thus, the adjourned date resulted in an increase of 130 registered voters in attendance and every one of those 343 attendees mattered immensely as it relates to a couple of significant articles on the Town Meeting Warrant.
Over the last 6 years, the average attendance rate at Annual Town Meeting has been approximately 5% of registered voters compared to an approximate 4% attendance at Special Town Meeting. Those numbers are skewed however in that a significant issue at the 2008 Annual Town Meeting - the new Wastewater Treatment Facility - resulted in an 8% attendance total, and the October 2009 Special Town Meeting - Burgess School Renovations - resulted in a 9% attendance total. If you extract those anomalies, the attendance averages shift to a 4% attendance rate at Annual Town Meeting and a 3% attendance rate at Special Town Meeting. Thus, the 5% attendance figure for Monday's Special Town Meeting was unique and very welcomed.
That said, based upon the discussions manifesting with respect to the Special Town Meeting Warrant, one could logically surmise that the attendance was primarily driven by 3 Articles, which generated the most dialog; those being Article 48 dealing with the Shepard Parcel (defeated 163 - 153), Article 52 dealing with adoption of the Energy Stretch Code, which was defeated by an overwhelming majority, and Article 54 dealing with a change to the day and time of Town Meeting to Saturdays, (defeated 116 - 115). You will note a disparity in the numbers as it relates to those in attendance and the final vote tallies on Warrant Articles, as some in attendance abstained on certain articles (myself being one, as I abstained on Article 48), while others left after the vote on a particular article had been counted.
Beyond the numbers, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Monday's Special Town Meeting was the demographics, which - based upon no science at this point - suggested to me at least, an attendance that was more reflective of the overall demographics within our community. There were more seniors, more single parent as well as non-parent couples, and there appeared to be a greater diversity of younger parents providing what I believed to be a more representative demographic of the Town. This is noteworthy because regardless of where one stands on the issues as presented on any Town Meeting Warrant, the inclusion of a more diverse Legislative Branch (the voters at Town Meeting) provides a greater opportunity for the exchange of ideas, concerns, hopes, and perhaps a greater understanding of all sides of an issue. This, in the end I believe, lends itself to a wider and more thorough discussion of all issues and ultimately a greater sense of validation for those who attend that their presence truly matters. If you look at the close votes on some of the issues addressed Monday night, it is clearly evident that a few more or less attendees either way, could have resulted in different outcomes. This is the true essence of Democracy as every vote counted Monday evening mattered immensely.
As a member of the Board of Selectmen, though I may have a particular viewpoint one way or another as it relates to the issues before us at Town Meeting, the bottom line is that the Sturbridge Town Charter clearly dictates that members of the Executive Branch (BOS) "...cause the laws and the orders for the government of the Town of Sturbridge to be enforced", and as the Town Charter identifies the attendees at Town Meeting as the Legislative Branch, the Board of Selectmen are obligated to ensure that the will of the voters at Town Meeting be enforced. Thus, ultimately, despite any position an individual Board member may maintain, once the vote is taken, we are now bound to support and enforce the will of the people.
Having more voters in attendance sharing diverse viewpoints and disparate positions makes for a stronger Democracy and a more representative discussion by all. It also ensures that each member of the Board of Selectmen develops a deeper appreciation for the viewpoints of those on the prevailing side of an issue, but also and vitally important, those on the non-prevailing side, as we are not district representatives assigned to a particular constituency, we are representatives of all residents within the community, by they supporters or otherwise. After all, our oath of office compel us to "...solemnly swear to perform our duties faithfully, impartially and to the best of our ability, so help us God". That's Democracy.