Town Meeting ends after marathon debate

This article originally appeared in the November 20 issue of the Wareham Courier.

Town Meeting ended on a controversial call after a marathon debate on Article 1. 

In a tight voice vote, Town Meeting approved of the amended budget as submitted by the Finance Committee. The vote came after a three-and-a-half hour debate focusing largely over a proposed $200,000 cut to the Wareham Free Library. It had been a spirited evening of applause and vociferous condemnation, and Town Moderator John Donahue called for a motion to either adjourn the meeting to a later date or to conclude the meeting without action on the remaining articles.

The meeting moved briskly as several people rose to make a motion to continue the meeting to Tuesday, Nov. 18. There was a quick second but the moderator had not recognized her. Instead, he recognized Selectman Brenda Eckstrom, who moved to conclude the meeting.

Amidst the shouting, an exasperated Cliff Sylvia stood up with his arms outstretched.

“Just what are we voting on?” he asked.

Chatter continued until the moderator pulled the meeting back to order a vote on Eckstrom’s motion over protests that a motion had been made.

The vote came down to a hand count, yellow cards held up high in the air.

Thirty-three on the right-hand side of the auditorium voted to conclude the meeting, as did 54 in the center and 62 on the left, for a total of 149 votes. In opposition to concluding the meeting, 154 residents voted to continue it until Tuesday.

In the din, the moderator announced that the vote was 159 to 154, perhaps having misheard the teller on the right as counting 43 votes in the affirmative.

With a bang of the gavel, a contentious Town Meeting came to a close to a loud chorus of objections. In the bedlam, several people shouted that the math was wrong, having kept their own tallies of the votes, but nothing was phrased formally in all the noise and voters began to respond with their feet by pouring out of the auditorium.

According to town counsel, even if the final tally had been wrong, the lack of a solid point of order in all that noise made it hard for the moderator to take note of the objections. Once everyone filed out, there was little that could be done to recall them to the rest of Town Meeting.

A review of the recording of the end of Town Meeting made for local access did confirm that the final tally was misheard with the teller shouting out “33, thre, three” when asked for his total.

The dissolution of the town’s legislative body left several items on the table, including many citizens’ petition articles, as well as the town’s personnel plan, which would have been the first such plan in four years.