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To the Editor,
As Town Meeting approaches an almost unprecedented fifth evening, I want to thank the Town Moderator, Alan Foulds, for the admirable job he is doing during one of the most disruptive and disgraceful Town Meetings I have witnessed. I will leave it to others to call out the racial slur and homophobic sentiments expressed by Town Meeting members. My complaint is with the disrespect shown to the Town Moderator and the abuse of Questions of Privilege, Points of Order, and Points of Information.
The purpose of Town Meeting is to appropriate funds and to make or revise by-laws. The foundation of Town Meeting is the Warrant, and all actions are pursuant to articles in the Warrant. Town Meeting operates under rules of procedure in the Town Charter and Town Meeting Time (3rd ed.), the Parliamentary Law Handbook that Reading uses.
According to Town Meeting Time, “Questions (motions) of privilege relate first to the rights and privileges of the meeting collectively, its safety, dignity, and the integrity of its proceedings; and second to the rights, reputation and conduct of the voters or town meeting individually… “(p. 123). A question of privilege should rarely involve more than a question and a decision by the Moderator. Requesting time to speak outside of motion debate is unusual, and the goodwill of the Moderator, and his desire to be fair and impartial, should not be taken advantage of.
A Point of Privilege is NOT an opportunity to “steal” the floor or re-debate an issue that has already been voted on or which will be taken up at another time. It is not an opportunity to grandstand. It is not a time to express disappointment that debate ended before one had the chance to speak. In many years participating in Town Meeting, I have been called on to speak many times; I have also seen debate ended many times while my hand was raised. It happens. (Town Meeting member Borawski’s statement was appropriate as she commented on inappropriate language and comments made at Town Meeting, which degraded the meeting and Town Meeting body.)
Rising to a Point of Information is for the purpose of ASKING for information or clarification from the Moderator, not OFFERING information to a fellow Town Meeting member. Again, it is not time to “steal” the floor, to be immediately recognized, in order to offer data points or opinions. Similarly, a Point of Order is raised to ask a question about the conduct of Town Meeting. The number of inappropriate uses of these motions by Town Meeting members has been significant, and they have been a drain on time devoted to the actual business to be conducted.
The Town Moderator’s job is difficult enough without the added challenges Zoom/virtual Town Meeting presents. Let’s show some respect for the Town Moderator and not make his job even more difficult. If the Town Moderator makes a ruling, then one should respect that and not pick a fight with him. If one wishes to challenge the Town Moderator’s ruling, then one should do so respectfully with a reasonably stated challenge (as Town Meeting member Arena did). The Town Moderator is not rigid, and he is willing to change his mind if presented with a reasonable argument; but his rulings, and he, deserve our respect.
It is the responsibility of elected Town Meeting members to make an effort to understand how Town Meeting works. It is the obligation of elected Town Meeting members to act with dignity. Town Meeting runs better when Town Meeting members understand the procedures under which the body operates and abide by those rules.
Angela F. Binda
Town Meeting member, Precinct 5