Petition article could reduce Select Board power over the warrant

Oct 20, 2021

Peter Dunlop, the lead petitioner on a citizens’ petition article that would change the process for placing articles on the Town Meeting warrant, summed up his motivation simply: “I want the townspeople to make the decision.”

The article will be voted on at the Oct. 25 Fall Town Meeting.

Currently, with the exception of citizens’ petitions, all articles on the warrant need to be approved by a majority vote of the Select Board. Citizens’ petition articles require signatures from ten registered voters to be put on the warrant. 

“If we leave it the way it is, three selectmen can run this town,” Dunlop said. “That’s not right.”

His citizens’ petition would allow any board to place articles on the warrant with a majority vote, as was the case in the past.

Dunlop said that the current process means that articles not favored by the Select Board must be citizens’ petitions to get on the warrant — as was the case with an article naming the Wareham Elementary School. 

“This is what we are forced to do to get the selectmen to listen,” Dunlop said.

While town boards can ask Town Counsel Richard Bowen for his advice, the authors of citizens’ petitions often don’t have that ability — meaning that they could be writing bylaws that would not be legally sound. 

The Select Board has blocked several warrant articles authored by boards in recent years.

In 2020, former School Committee member Mike Flaherty submitted a citizens’ petition article to name the Wareham Elementary School after a committee-sponsored article was blocked by the Select Board. 

In spring 2019, Sandy Slavin submitted a citizens’ petition article that would allow the Community Preservation Committee to place articles directly on the warrant. That article failed. Slavin, who clarified at the meeting that she authored the petition entirely independently and without consulting the CPC, said the petition was prompted by the Select Board’s repeated downvoting of funding for new housing units at Agawam Village over the course of three years.

Long-time town political players Alan and Sandy Slavin signed this petition, as did several members of the Sewer Commission.

While this article was initially recommended by the Select Board, Judith Whiteside changed her vote from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ on Sep. 29, so only members Alan Slavin and Jim Munise were in favor of the article, with Whiteside, Patrick Tropeano, and Peter Teitelbaum voting against recommending it. 

The Finance Committee recommended the article, saying it would allow debate about articles’ merits to take place on the floor at Town Meeting.