The following is a Letter to the Editor from Arlington resident, Rich Carreiro, a former Precinct 19 Town Meeting member.
July 19th's vote on the leaf-blower ban once again shows what many of us have known for years -- Arlington's "representative" town meeting is anything but.
Why? Because Town Meeting Members have near-zero accountability for their actions. If you want to know how your TMMs voted, the only way to even begin to have a chance to find out is to get a seat in the gallery at Town Meeting, hope that you can see your TMMs from where you are sitting, and when a counted vote comes along, see which way they vote. Good luck!
Now, having said that I am nonethless firmly convinced that Arlington's Town Meeting is a far better form of government than any replacement such as a city/town council (which would be horrible.) But that doesn't mean Town Meeting's flaws should be ignored -- and ending TMMs' lack of accountability would go a long way toward fixing Town Meeting's primary flaw.
Some suggestions for how to do that include:
1. More roll-call votes. TMMs can easily force roll-call votes to put all TMMs on the record. It only takes 30 TMMs to require a roll-call vote to be taken. As a former 14-year TMM myself I understand that roll-call votes are slow and inefficient, but if TMMs are going to purport to represent us, they should be willing to provide evidence they are actually doing so.
2. Instead of calling for a pure roll-call vote, TMMs could ask the Moderator to poll yeas and nays by precinct. So rather than calling everyone's name the Moderator could do something like "All Precinct 19 members in favor please stand" (and then take down the number), "All Precinct 19 members opposed please stand" (and then take down the number). This would let residents of a precinct at least know how their TMMs voted as a group, which would provide much more accountability than currently exists while allowing a vote to be taken much faster than a pure roll-call vote. Come January I am planning to submit a warrant article to explicitly give TMMs the power to force such per-precinct votes in addition to the counted votes and pure roll-call votes TMMs can already force.
3. Serious consideration (and not just some lip service study) should be given to using modern technology to provide some form of quick, in-hall, electronic voting so that all votes would essentially be roll-call votes but would take no longer than votes currently take.
Personally, I believe electronic voting would be the ideal solution. But until then there are the other ways that can and should be used to force TMMs to operate on the record and be accountable to their constituents.
Former Town Meeting Member