2017-10-05 / News

Council, residents spar about FTM

BY TIM RIEL

Tempers flared Monday night during a discussion on whether the financial town meeting is a disenfranchising process because of its exclusive timing and small voting window.

Referencing the 161 voters who registered for the June meeting, Town Moderator John Murphy said the low turnout implies approval from the residents who stayed home.

“The only time it attracts a large number of voters is when there is contentious argument,” he said.

In reply to Murphy’s argument, Fritz Attaway, a member of the town’s taxpayers’ association, said councilors don’t want to change the one-night process in order to “maintain the oligarchy.”

Councilwoman Mary Meagher, in a stern tone, took offense to the accusation. “I’m insulted by your comment,” she said. “It’s an inappropriate term.”

“You’re insulted because I want my vote to count?” Attaway replied.

The debate stems from recommendations put forward by a review committee that was tasked with scouring the town charter line by line. The committee, which met 16 times from August 2015 to June 2016, made 11 recommendations, including a resolution that mandates all budget items exceeding $50,000 require a paper ballot. Although the resolution was unanimous, the committee did not agree where the paper ballot should be cast. Therefore, that measure was tabled while the remaining 10 proposals were approved and ratified in the 2016 election.

The disagreement was whether the votes should be cast at the financial town meeting or through an all-day referendum.

“The strength of a town financial meeting is that any voter can learn and debate the issues,” said Jim Rugh, a former committee member who wants to keep the status quo. “Voters become educated.”

John Pagano, a fellow board member, disagreed. He said the town is transforming into suburbia from a farming community, which means a larger population with diverse schedules. Attaway, for example, said he was in Philadelphia for June’s meeting.

Council President Kristine Trocki, however, called the meeting a “precious part of Jamestown” and said the date is set well in advance.

“If you can’t schedule your meetings a year in advance, I’m sorry for you,” she said.

“Only those who can schedule their meetings in advance can vote in this town?” Attaway asked rhetorically.

Dante Tita, a fellow member of the taxpayers’ association, said secret ballots are the backbone of a democracy. Some residents are intimidated to vote openly in public, he said, especially when dissenting with a neighbor, which can cause consternation.

No vote was taken and several regular audience members stormed out during the discussion. Moreover, the councilors seemed confused about what course of action they could take. Councilman Blake Dickinson suggested a non-binding referendum for the 2018 election that would ask voters whether they support the status quo or an all-day referendum with absentee ballots.

According to Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, any changes would require a charter amendment, which needs to be approved by the state legislature before it can be ratified.

Return to top