SHIRLEY — Town moderator George Knittel has met with planners to offer advice on future town meetings.
Knittel told the board he wanted to review some things that occurred at the special town meeting (STM) in early November, and offered some recommendations to ensure that future meetings run smoothly.
Board member Jonathan Greeno mentioned that the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee contributed tremendously to their efforts, and felt they should not forget the work they did in preparation for the STM.
Three key suggestions were made by Knittel, but he told board members that he is under the impression that the Planning Board is doing an “exceptional job.”
“I’m a glass is half full kind of guy, and I think your glasses are 90 percent full,” he said.
The first suggestion was that the board should try to give voters a choice on as many things as possible at future meetings. He specifically pointed out the issues the Planning Board encountered with article 14 as presented at the STM, and said that the article should have been divided into five separate questions for voters to address.
“In retrospect, I agree with you one hundred percent,” said Planning Board Chairman Charles Colburn.
During the STM, arguments became heated regarding the zoning changes presented with the article because, as Colburn explained, there was a misunderstanding about the separation of Great Road North and Great Road South.
Colburn explained that the Planning Board had always viewed the two areas as one subject, mainly because the only thing that separated them was Route 2A.
At the time, Shirley residents were under the impression that they would have the opportunity to vote on each area shown on the overhead map at the STM. However, when the question of those areas was raised, the meeting floor encountered difficulties separating the two zones acceptably according to the town meeting bylaws.
No terms were reached to separate the two areas, and Knittel said, “It is very hard on the town floor to rewrite something like this.”
Knittel said the difficulties they encountered, and the board’s inability to separate the article, may have contributed to the opposing vote.
“I don’t really like surprises on the town floor,” Knittel said.
“There are always future town meetings, though,” Colburn said, telling Knittel that he appreciates the feedback.
Second, Knittel told the Planning Board members they should try to answer voters’ questions in a clear and concise manner without commentary or additional information. He told members to wait for further questions before providing any background information or explanation.
“We’ve had some complaints that people did not have their questions answered,” said Knittel.
Also regarding Article 14, Knittel said, “Be sure of the statements you make at town meeting.”
“We weren’t trying to deceive anyone,” Greeno said.
Planning Board members were situated together at the front of the auditorium during the STM, which Colburn felt was effective because members of the board were able to confer if necessary, and address the participants as a whole.
At the meeting, Knittel indicated that he did not strictly enforce the town bylaw that participants only speak three times to an article, and Colburn told Knittel that it was appreciated when he advised participants to come to town meeting prepared with constructive questions during the STM.
“People who asked thoughtful questions are not the issue,” Knittel said.
Colburn thanked Knittel for his service to the town, which he is not paid for.
“It’s my reasonable service to the town of Shirley,” Knittel said.