Town Meeting - Details and Definitions

The Town Meeting is the legislative body for the Town of Dunstable. ~ Our town bylaw states that the Annual Town Meeting shall be held on the second Monday in May. Occasionally is it necessary to continue into a second evening, which is usually determined on the night of the Annual Town Meeting. The length of the town meeting is dependent on the number of articles on the Warrant and the complexity of the issues to be discussed.

The Town Meeting takes action on the Articles list in the Warrant for the meeting. ~ All town meetings, whether annual or special, are initiated by a Warrant issued by the Board of Selectmen. ~ The Warrant is a list of items to be considered by the meeting. ~ For the annual meeting, the Board of Selectmen generally opens the warrant in January and accepts articles proposed by boards, committees, or citizen petition. The subject matter of the warrant articles are: committee reports, appropriations, amendments to zoning and town bylaws, acceptance of general laws, petitions for special legislation, and other matters requiring the authorization of Town Meeting. The Warrant is compiled by the Board of Selectmen. Articles to be inserted in the warrant for any Town Meeting must be in writing, signed by the petitioner or petitioners and delivered to the Selectmen. Such petitioner(s) shall be registered voters of the Town. Articles to be inserted in the warrant for Annual Town Meeting shall be delivered to the Selectmen forty five (45) days prior to the date set for posting the warrant.

A citizen may sponsor a warrant article by filing a citizen's petition with the Town Clerk prior to the closing of the warrant. ~ This petition must be signed by 10 voters and include a fair description of the subject matter the petitioner desires to put before the meeting. ~ Citizens who are interested in filing such petitions should contact the Town Clerk for additional information.

The Warrant consists of Articles listing the subject matter for each item to be considered by the Town Meeting. The Article can address only one issue. ~ It is the town practice to consider the entire town operating budget in one omnibus article to facilitate discussion. ~ The language of the article is specific enough to give full notice of what may be considered under the topic. Frequently the exact language for consideration is developed after the warrant is published. The Town bylaw requires that the Selectmen shall cause copies of the Annual Town Reports to be distributed among the taxpayers of the Town by mail or otherwise at least three (3) days before the Annual Town Meeting.

The Town Meeting votes on Motions, offered by the proponents that are within the scope of the articles in the Warrant. The language of the motion is the specific action requested of Town Meeting. ~~

The Moderator conducts town meeting. He/she is the final authority on the scope of articles, the propriety of motions, the order of speakers and the call of the vote of Town Meeting on each motion. ~ The Moderator has other appointment duties in addition to the conduct of Town Meeting.

The Town of Dunstable has an open town meeting which means that all of the town's voters may vote on all matters (Towns with fewer than 6,000 inhabitants must have an open Town Meeting). All town residents are allowed to address town meeting and participate in the debate. ~ Non-residents may address the meeting by leave of the moderator. ~ In Dunstable, 50 Registered voters shall constitute a quorum provided that, for the limited purpose of convening a special or annual town meeting in order that it may act to postpone the meeting to a day certain under circumstances of inclement weather, or other circumstances that render the conduct of a town meeting impracticable, one (1) registered voter shall constitute a quorum.

By town bylaw the Advisory Committee considers the justification and background material for every article that comes before town meeting. ~ After weekly public meetings and discussions with the proponents and a public hearing the Advisory Committee votes their recommendation for every motion and must hold a Public Hearing on the articles at least 2 weeks before the Town Meeting. ~

Upon check in, voters shall be issued a voting card for that meeting which must be held up for all hand votes on articles, whenever a hand count is required. Only those voters holding cards shall be included in the count. Voting on motions is generally by a calling of the yeas and nays by voice vote. ~ In certain circumstances the moderator will call for a standing counted vote. For example, town's by-laws require that 2/3 of the voters, not a simple majority,vote to approve a zoning amendment for it to pass. Unless the voice vote is unanimous in favor, the moderator will find it hard to determine if more than 2/3 of the voters said "yea." A vote requiring a super-majority (more than a simple majority) is usually decided by a vote other than voice vote.