Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 8, 2018
Selectmen move town meeting to Saturday
by Rich Hewitt
The annual town meeting will have a little different feel to it in 2019.
For the first time in many years, the annual exercise in local democracy will not be held on the first Monday in March.
The selectmen on Monday changed the day of town meeting which next year will be held on a Saturday. They set the date for Saturday, March 9 at 1 p.m. with the hope that more town residents will turn out for the meeting.
In many Maine towns, the timing of town meeting is predetermined in the town charter, which often specifies a date such as the first Tuesday in March. Stonington, however, does not have a town charter, but an enabling act, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, so the authority for setting the town meeting date lies with the board of selectmen. The selectmen have exercised that authority in the past and have scheduled town meetings on a Saturday and in the evening. But it has been a while.
“We’ve done it before,” Selectman Evelyn Duncan noted, “but it didn’t make much difference.”
The hope is that this time, it will.
Selectmen agreed that the traditional afternoon town meeting time makes it difficult for working people to attend. Evening sessions also make it hard for older residents, Selectman John Robbins said. The last time they held town meeting at night, “people left early,” he said.
Although selectmen agreed that they couldn’t please everyone, Robbins pointed out that a Saturday meeting would eliminate some of those barriers.
Initially, selectmen considered setting the meeting date for the first Saturday in March (which would be March 2), but in response to a message from Billings, Town Clerk Lucy Bradshaw indicated that they could not go earlier than the original town meeting date (Monday, March 4) because they could not then meet the new state requirements for distributing and collecting nomination papers for municipal elections.
The town of Stonington generally allows four hours for municipal elections (from 8-noon), which provides enough time to count ballots before the actual discussion of warrant articles begins. The new town meeting date keeps the voting hours the same.