As pandemic continues, Bow to decide the future of its town meeting format 

  • Bow residents vote to end the debate over a warrant article concerning the construction of a new public safety building and proceed to voting at a packed high school auditorium Thursday night, March 13, 2014, during their annual town meeting. Residents were faced with the decision whether or not to approve a nearly 7 million project. John Tully

Monitor Staff
Published: 3/3/2021 6:56:03 PM

The future format of Bow town meetings will be decided this year at an in-person meeting where people concerned about the coronavirus won’t be able to participate.

Bow currently uses a traditional town meeting schedule, where residents gather to debate and vote on town business, usually in early March. This year’s Town Meeting will be held on March 17.

On the warrant will be a question of whether the town should move to an SB2 format of town meeting, where warrant articles are discussed and edited at a deliberative session, a month before all matters are voted on by ballot on election day.

The Board of Selectmen decided in February to put the question to voters, but the issue – and the timing of asking people to decide the issue in the middle of a pandemic – continue to swirl. A special meeting was called Tuesday for more discussion on the matter.

Board Chairman Chris Nicolopoulos wasn’t about to change course.

“SB-2, no matter what happens tonight, will be a warrant at the town meeting,” Nicolopoulos said at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting.

The question of whether to split up the town meeting into the SB2 format isn’t new to Bow. The town has voted against it eight times since the law was passed in 1995.

It was put out as a warrant this year following a Board of Selectmen meeting on Feb. 9 after Bruce Marshall brought up the idea again and mentioned it was due to COVID-19. The motion was seconded by Matthew Poulin and placed on the warrant with little fanfare or discussion. The matter was brought up and passed in less than a minute.

It has now proved to be somewhat controversial among the board

“It did come as a surprise,” Vice Chair Colleen Hunter told the other selectmen Tuesday. “Quite frankly, I felt totally unprepared.”

Concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could bar interested townspeople from voting on the issue, she said.

“I feel that we will put our citizens at risk,” Hunter said. “I think it’s a timing thing.”

Selectman Mike Wayne agreed.

“We don’t know how many people are going to show up to the town meeting. I don’t believe it will be a good cross-section of the people of Bow,” he said. “The timing is wrong and we should’ve delayed it one year.”

Marshall questioned that logic. If there was a concern about one warrant article and whether it can be fairly voted on by townspeople, others could bear the same scrutiny, he said.

“So should we be removing the Bow Youth Center off the ballot also?” he asked, and questioned whether the board should take other important issues off the table that are of “equal weight to the taxpayer.”

Marshall explained why he made the motion to put the question to voters in the first place. “In talking to other towns that have SB-2, especially in the eyes of COVID, it’s easier for them to watch an informational portion of the meeting and then come out to vote,” he explained.

Discussion of the matter wound down as selectmen circled back to the point that Nicolopoulos made at the outset – that the matter was to be voted on at the town meeting regardless of the board’s current concerns.

The underlying concern of SB2 – that a motivated few can rally at a deliberative session and make big changes that can’t be undone before voting day – came up during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“It’s very easy for a dozen people to hijack the warrant,” resident Richard Minard said. “A majority of people attending the meeting can change the dollar amounts on any warrant article. SB-2 is deeply flawed for that reason.”

Town Moderator Peter Imse explained the plan for the town meeting’s technological set-up and how residents can tune in to watch, but must be present in order to vote. While the idea of putting the ballot box outside was brought up, Imse said he did not believe it was feasible.

The issue of SB-2 and other items on the warrant will be settled at the town meeting on March 17, which scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at Bow High School.




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