The only reason I voted today was because I saw the signs on the way to work.
It's pretty arrogant to chastise people for not knowing about an election because they no longer "read the paper." Fewer and fewer people do. It's pretty much like complaining people don't hand-write letters anymore. Lost cause. Between candidates who don't bother to campaign and the evolution toward digital media, it's not surprising that people literally stumbled across this election.
If my kid's school can send me robo-calls about meetings that have absolutely nothing to do with her, then any town in MA can do the same about elections. Or they can create an email list for voters to opt in to and send out a reminder the day before an election. The cost would be negligible, and this conversation would become moot.
As for turnout, well, that's another story. You can lead a horse to the voting booth but you can't make him make an X. Because horses doesn't have fingers. And they would always vote neigh.
"if you're saying that you're not going to pay any attention unless and until you see a sign somewhere convenient to you on the day of the election, why would I want you to vote?"
Because I'd be sure to flip a coin ahead of time so I didn't go in unprepared ;-)
Seriously, because if I knew the election was this week / month I would have gotten informed. Town meeting is not an issue because there are seldom more people then seats. I know one of the selectboard candidates personally and would most likely support them, though I would be sure to find out about the others. I will admit to not knowing as much about the School Committee as I have in the past but, again, I would have tried to find information.
I'm not advocating that the town let people know there is an election the day it happens. I'm advocating that they let people know a week or two beforehand. Maybe I've been too busy for my own good, but other than being told by the selectboard candidate that they were running, I had not heard a single mention of the election until Mik posted about turnout this afternoon. Sorry to be remiss in my civic duty, either way.
I think those are good suggestions, and I agree that there are a lot of ways to get the word out.
But don't you think there's a role here, too, for personal responsibility? I mean, if there's a contested race, do you really want a lot of people showing up to vote only because they saw a sign while driving by their polling place, or they saw an announcement here or on Facebook that "there's an election today"?
If you're not going to read the newspapers, how do you expect to find out about the candidates? Don't expect "the town" to tell you, because "the town" can't do that -- that's the job of newspapers and other independent information sources.
Right now, I know there will be another election on June 25, to elect a US Senator to replace John Kerry, and to elect a selectman to replace Pat Allen. I also know who the candidates are, and I've already started thinking about which ones I prefer, and I've already started trying to pay attention to learning more about them before the election. No offense, but if you're saying that you're not going to pay any attention unless and until you see a sign somewhere convenient to you on the day of the election, why would I want you to vote?
Maybe the day and week are common knowledge but they aren't to me, and I almost never drive by my polling place. If the town had posted something on this corkboard, or if they had a Facebook page and they'd posted it there, great. If it's in the paper, either the Reporter or the Recorder, I'm probably not going to see it. It's pretty easy to inform people in the 21st century, but you have to use 21st century means to do it.
I didn't realize that the election was today until I got home and saw posts in this forum. I had to get my son to baseball in the opposite direction so I never found time to vote.
I saw no signs in Montague Center over the weekend. The fact that we know vote on what may be the least traveled road in the whole town doesn't help. I feel bad that I was unable to perform my civic duty, but I didn't know. Since when are elections on Monday, anyway?
Montague holds town elections every year in May -- for all I know, it's every year on the third Monday (which is what it was this year). There's always a selectboard seat open, there are always three school committee seats open (technically, it's GMRSD's election, but it's always combined with the town's), there are always 7 town meeting seats open in each precinct, and there are other boards that always have seats open and other positions that rotate through a multi-year cycle. Once you've lived here for a little while, if you care, you learn that there's going to be an election in May, and if if you read the papers it's usually not that hard to find out when it is.
In Millers, someone showed up to vote just after the polls closed - he'd noticed the signs earlier and made an effort to come back, but he had no idea what the election was about. I had mixed feelings as I saw him leave -- should I be sad that a potential voter hadn't had the chance, or should I be glad that someone who had no clue didn't get the opportunity to put an X randomly on a contested race?
Precinct 2 (which votes at the Highland Apartments in Millers Falls) had a total of 75 voters.
In this election, there were races for selectman, housing authority, and school committee (and in Precinct 1, I believe, town meeting). The Recorder has had features about the selectman race and the school committee race, on different days last week (I didn't see anything about the housing authority -- maybe I missed it). I actually think they did a reasonable job -- there's a lot going on all around the county, and only so much print space, and besides those two articles they've also covered Pat Allen's resignation and the upcoming election for her replacement on June 25.
The Montague Reporter had nothing in its last issue (other than three letters to the editor, two of which mentioned the date of the election), which I find disappointing, since its founding mission was to provide information on, um, Montague.
I don't know my precint number, I just know I have to go over towards Millers Falls to vote (which is out of my way) around 1:45, 60 ballots divided by 2 means 30 voters.
I assume most of the frequent posters on this board actually voted. The large percentage of voters I don't think know about this website and I didn't really see anything stand out in the recorder in the weekend edition to say there was voting today.
When I left Pct. 5 around 2:00 we were up to 28! Not even close to Pct. 1 and an embarrassment overall. Considering this had a contested BOS race and a lot of open Town Meeting seats -- in a year when people on this board have expressed impatience with town government -- a low turnout is a disappointment.
The head of the IRS was fired by Obama but Obama failed to mention that he was quitting in a couple of weeks. If Obama wanted to find out the truth he would call for a special prosecutor. So much for having an open administration.
Just in case anyone is interested in a little truth while the Republican attack machine and the lazy media go nuts over Benghazi and the IRS scandal, here is an interesting article about the tax-exempt status the Tea Party was applying for. It turns out they - or more likely Tea Party front organizations were applying for a tax exemption on the basis that they were "social welfare" organizations and primarily doing "educational" work on issues like... the Constitution, patriotism and so forth. What a joke.
Now if this article is correct the IRS has every reason to investigate the Tea Party phonies if they want a tax exemption and want to hide the names of their contributors under the guise that they are social welfare organizations. Of course the IRS should apply the same standards to "liberal" groups who do the same thing. If not, that would be the real scandal.
But it is interesting that in scanning the massive numbers of media reports on this over the past few days, I have not yet seen any mention of a rather important issue.... do these political groups in fact deserve to be tax exempt? And of course if you are going to investigate their political activities - which you should if they are applying for tax exempt status as primarily non-political organizations - you will be checking out their front groups which have words like "patriot," "tea party" and "constitution" in them
But of course ignoring fundamental details - whether liberals or conservatives do it - is all part of the lazy media scandal machine.
The school committee may not be"looking for help" with the GMRSD budget (I suspect if the issue is framed that way you will get a negative reaction). But let's just say a standard /consistent set of documents at the various meetings with an agreed upon way of analyzing them would improve the situation.
No I do not think the town boards should replace the school committee in terms of its oversight budget role. I have never said that and I absolutely do not think that. But I have never understood this rather arbitrary distinction you make between the role of the finance committee and the role of the school committee. It is not clear what the basis of this is or what its practical value is.
The reality is, whatever your philosophy or theory, the school committee has hearings and goes before town boards and town meetings. They present data and information to make their case for their budget. Board members and town meeting members ask questions about that data and all sorts of other issues. Doesn't it make sense to have the right data so we can have that discussion? Doesn't it make sense to solve what is obviously a problem rather than get into a philosophical discussion about the roles of committees?
Also as a practical matter, the fin coms tend to be better at budget analysis (it is what they do) so they can in fact help the school committee which has a tremendous amount on its plate and whose members tend not to specialize in budget analysis. I am not talking about replacing the SC oversight role but simply helping to improve the situation, which really is not good.
Sitting back and saying "that's not our role" may be somewhat true but does not solve the problem. And in fact is contradicted by what actually happens at these hearings/town meeting etc.
I should add that I personally do not think that the ideal situation is that the town boards get a lot of detailed information from the school district that they can spend time analyzing. I think that the ideal situation is that the school committee does the analyzing, and that the town boards simply confirm that they are doing it, along with having discussions about trends in the town assessments, educational health of the school system, etc.
I get the impression (maybe I'm wrong) that you've written the school committee off in this process, leaving the town boards as the only check on a district that is careering like a driverless bus. If that's the case, I think it's a problem that will not be solved by the town boards taking over the process -- it will be solved by the school committee stepping up to the plate and taking its proper role in the budget development, analysis, and presentation.
Yes, a meeting early in the process for FY15 sounds like a good idea.
Beyond that, I think you and I have a communication problem. You refer to "a budget hearing with no budget" -- what are you talking about? GMRSD had a budget hearing on 2/12 at which they presented a budget (not much detail -- or explanation -- but it was a budget; in fact, it was the only handout they'd prepared for the hearing). The hearing on 3/6 was technically about the _assessment_, not the budget, although we had asked for "T1-T2 like" information (i.e. somewhat detailed budget). We didn't get it, and so we asked again in the follow-up email -- how does that translate to "no one on the finance committee says, 'hey where's your budget?'"?
Maybe we could have been more aggressive during the meeting in asking for the information -- I think that's a judgment call, and I'm not going to say we clearly did the right thing. But there were a number of factors at play; one was our desire to get good information; another was the district's obvious reluctance share more than they felt they had to, based on their concern (for whatever reason) that town boards were trying to meddle in their budget process; and a third (and I think important) one was that their budget was changing rapidly -- on 3/6 it was over $200,000 lower than it was on 2/12, and by 3/29 it had dropped another $25,000, only to drop another $25,000 by 4/2 (the day of the fin comm's final vote). Joyce Phillips said during that period that providing updated budget information every time there was a change would be "confusing" -- arguably, she has a point, and how to provide useful information that isn't confusing should be one of the topics of the meeting mentioned above. I think it's pretty clear that the district did not feel up to the task this time around.
Finally, I think you are completely wrong in suggesting that I consider "even the mildest criticism of the finance committee" to be off-base. What I consider to be off-base are statements about the finance committee that are simply not true, especially when you accuse us of not knowing how to do things that we definitely do know how to do. Dealing with grants data isn't that hard -- they're just another revenue source, although one with (usually) some restrictions on what they can be spent on. We deal with these every year for the town budget, and GMRSD is the same idea. First, you separate out the grants for those things that exist because of the grant and will end if and when the grand ends. Those are interesting, but unless you have reason to believe the grants will go on forever you consider them to be add-ons to your basic mission. Then you have the grants that fund things that will need to be funded whether the grants are there or not. Those are much more interesting, in that the trends in grant funding may end up affecting trends in your overall budget (examples on the town side are the COPS grants in the past, and Chapter 90 monies). The information we got this year did not make a distinction between the two types of grants (yes, we did ask), so it wasn't useful for understanding how grants affect the core budget, but it was more than we've gotten in the past, and I hope we can do better next year.
So the bottom line is that rather than go back and forth over email for months next year the boards should meet early in the process and hopefully agree to a common set of documents for the various presentations, including a good list o budget assumptions. I would add that a) try to avoid different sets of docs with different formats every time there is a hearing. and b) maybe even have some discussion of how to analyze this material.
And yes I think it is a very serious communication problem when you have a budget hearing with no budget and no one on the finance committee says, "hey where's your budget?" The communication problem is caused by going back and forth over email rather than sitting down and trying to come to an agreement. Also as far as I can tell the members of the school committee were never involved in the discussion and I am not sure the finance board members were either.
I really do not think the various points about state law etc. are relevant if they were used as an excuse not to share information. State law does not specify what information regional school districts should share with member towns and yet all districts I have seen share a certain amount of information because of course they want support for budgets. The problem is the quality is very low. To use state law as an excuse for that, if that happened, is a smokescreen.
But I think the other bottom line here is that we can take pot shots at the school committee all the time but even the mildest criticism of the finance committee (as in my comment that members were not sure what to do with the grant data they asked for*) is a "slur" and you take this very personally. Just so I know what the rules are around here.
*BTW I am not sure what to do with the grant data either so I guess I am insulting myself. Just to make you feel better.
I don't think it's a communication problem -- I think the town boards were very clear about what we hoped to receive. I think the district (meaning the superintendent and the school committee chair, as well as others) didn't want to share any more information with the towns than they had to until they had everything buttoned up.
Would I have preferred that they share more than they did? Yes, I would have. Were they required to do more? I don't think they were. The chair made a point at more than one meeting of enumerating the district's responsibilities under state law, the district agreement, and their budget process, and I think they met their obligations.
As for being "defensive", I felt a need to respond to your claim (5/6) that "[t]he key oversight committees, particularly the school committee but also the finance committees do not seem to understand why [budget assumptions are] important for proper budget analysis" by pointing out that the finance committee did consider them important, and in fact asked for them several times.
You followed that up with the claim, on 5/9, that "did not seem that anyone was quite sure what to do with [grant information provided on 3/6], or how to analyze it." Jeff, I think you have to recognize that when you made that statement you were talking about me, among others, as I am on the finance committee and I received that information, and so I take that charge personally (just as I take the charge that we didn't understand why budget assumptions are important personally).
In my opinion, the information we were provided about grants was useful in that it was more than we have seen in the past, but it was insufficient to provide a real understanding of how grants figure in to the ongoing GMRSD budget. I think it would be useful to understand that, but right now I don't think we have enough information; if you disagree, perhaps you can explain to me why I'm wrong.
But I really find myself wondering why we're even having this conversation. You've noted that information flow and communication were not ideal during this past budget process, and I've agreeed. You've suggested some improvements for next year, and I've agreed they would be helpful. Is there a reason why we need to keep talking about this?
MJ, I watched some of the meeting last night down in the village. I also was quite surprised with the Montague School Apartment vote.( Any one that thinks the change was not made just for the anticipated deal should get their heads out of their butts). All the talk on here and at the committee meetings it is quite obvious folks that care about the village are not town meeting members. As I said the old dude I help was one of the 13 against. There was a case for an OPEN town meeting as I've ever seen. Any one have a count on attendance by preceinct (sp.)? Mainly #1 and #2.Folks in Millers lost Highland so more of them should have been more supportive. My dude says the gent in front of him didn't vote on it either way. Oh well. Happy Mothers Day to all the MOMS .....Ed