Con

On this page are comments that are opposed to SB-2. Please feel free to post your own comments against SB-2 here for all to see.

6 responses

27 12 2007
myway1950

Dear Mr. Chase,

You wrote, “I am contacting all SB2 towns, both present and
former, and asking for their opinion of how they feel about this
form of government, as opposed to the Town Meeting format. ”

I have been a resident of Merrimack, NH, since 1979. We are now
a SB2 town. I didn’t favor it when the town voted for it and I
don’t favor it now. While SB2 does fulfill the goal of getting
more people to vote, it does not encourage people to be informed
voters. The number of people attending the deliberative sessions
has been dismal until this year when a newly formed anti-tax
group worked harder to get out the vote. Still, 300 people
attending the deliberative session in a town of 28,000, is hardly
representative.

We have had several instances of the poorly attended deliberative
session totally changing the intent of warrant articles. While
this is legal, it is often frustrating to both elected boards and
to petitioners. For instance, last year we had a petitioned
warrant article to ban the discharge of firearms on a 600 acre
parcel of land the town owns (a “nature preserve”, no less). By
the end of the deliberative session, an article to prohibit
target shooting on that property was sent forth to the ballot and
passed. There were fewer than 200 people at the deliberative
session making the decisions for 16,000 registered voters.

This year, 139 people (out of 18,000 registered voters) made a
$1.5 million cut in the budget, bringing the bottom line to an
amount well below the default budget. Most of the people who
voted for the amended budget weren’t around for the explanation
of what a small percentage of our budget is discretionary
spending and the impact such a cut would make.

We all live busy lives. I don’t understand why so many people
balk at the idea of spending one night a year to become informed
voters. It is sad that attending athletic events, watching
television programs, and making so many other things higher
priority than being an informed voter has become the way of the
land, especially with SB2.

Needless to say, I would not encourage any town to adopt the SB2
form of local government.

Sincerely,

Carolyn G. Whitlock
6/6/06

27 12 2007
myway1950

Dear Don,

As a 28 year resident of Bedford, I believe SB2 was not the way to go from the town meeting form of government.

The deliberative session is just like the former town meeting, where articles are discussed and amended, unless they are by citizen petition. So it still depends on how many, from what particular interest group, show up at a meeting, to sway a vote in their favor.

The town is now split into a town council, and a school district, and each now operates pretty much on their own, except for members of each that sit on the other’s board as a liason, supposedly to keep tabs of what the other board is doing. Sounds good in theory, but again, if the two boards are in favor of a particular goal, they are strengthened by participating on each others boards, even if by not voting on that board, but reinforcing a particular idea, like a new school, road, or whatever. And still, most people that run for either the School Board or the Town Council, are people with an agenda. For a townsperson, this means trying to keep up with the school board’s agenda and their budget, trying to keep up with the town council’s agenda and their budget. Last year, only 10 people showed up at the town budget hearings, this year around 50. SB2 was supposed to increase participation, but that hasn’t been the case. Even the general election in March sees no more voter participation than before, as far as I can see. Last year a $50 million dollar high school passed with less than 30% of the total number of registered voters voting for it, due to the low turn-out. Even to vote absentee, they have it set up so that one must go to the Town Office for one ballot, then trapse over to the School District for the school ballot. This is, in my view, a deliberate attempt to make it harder for most older folks to vote in school elections by absentee ballot, since they know most older folks oppose runaway spending.

But the real loss in the whole process is the loss of the Budget Committee. This is serious, because now there is nobody with the complete picture of what is going on in the aggregate of things, the public budget hearings only go over superficial numbers, mostly totals, and noone in the world would have enough time to study both the school budget and the town budget and be able to decipher runaway spending in a particular area. Nobody is able to have a year to year comparison in their head, like a budget committee. So what you end up with is a situation where there are two major branches, each with their own budgets, and with the same people overseeing those budgets who also drafted those budgets, and sometimes with the boards colluding with each other in the process. Gone is the oversight board with the big picture.

SB2 has in my mind, divided the house in two, reduced accountability to the taxpayers, and greatly reduced the taxpayers input and effectiveness to determine their own destination. Most people just stay out of the process completely, and if motivated enough, vote in March. And now, with electronic voting machines that can be easily manipulated to reach a predetermined outcome, voters are getting even more turned off. But that’s another story.

For now, the best plan is, I think, to stay with the town meeting form of government, and handcount the ballots. And do not lose your Budget Committee.

Sincerely,

Stuart B. Harnden
Bedford, NH

27 12 2007
myway1950

Good Afternoon,

 With regards to SB2 form of government, please let me first start by saying     
that I have worked for 3 Towns since I decided to leave the Public Accounting     
side of things and transfer over to actually working for a Town. When I first     
started out in 1994 in Allenstown as their second Administrator, Allenstown was    
a traditional Town Meeting. Knowing the climate of Pittsfield, I would say that     
Allenstown rated right up there with the somewhat volatile meetings. In 1996 I     
left to become Exeter’s Finance Director and entered into a community with a     
very strong taxpayers group who was instrumental in switching to SB2. My first     
year under SB2 was in 1997. That year, the Deliberative Session was held in the     
Exeter Gym. Much to my surprise, there were at least 300+ people. The next year     
people became discouraged that they could not vote and the following years     
attendance dwindled to less than sixty. Subtract those that needed to be there,     
(Department Heads, Employees, spouses, relatives of employees) you were left     
with about 20 people. Most people would go and vote and fail to educate     
themselves and just rely on the letters to the editor. Allenstown tried several     
times to revert back to Town meeting and failed. Hooksett has a population of     
over 13,000 people and we saw 100 people at our deliberation. Once the first     
article was done, most left leaving us with about 50. I am not a big fan of SB2     
and would rather know that day what the vote was. Those who like SB2, do so     
primarily for the comfort of voting privately without offending anyone. If it     
could be changed so that  all the articles were discussed and then people went     
into the booth that same day, at least you would hear the 2 sided debate.

David Jodoin,
Town of Hooksett

27 12 2007
myway1950

Dear Mr. Chase:

This subject has been a popular one this year. It is not an easy answer
to give and certainly an important decision that is not be entered into
lightly. In towns that I have worked with; in a traditional Town Meeting
Town many people feel that to change to the SB2 method would give more
people an opportunity to vote on these issues. People are discouraged at
the number of people who take the time to show up at Town Meeting and
worry that such a few, make decisions that affects the whole Town, this
is a special concern if the Town Meeting is “stacked” for special agendas. 
People have encouraged Board members, Administrative staff to devise ways 
to get people to attend meetings. Unfortunately in today’s world that is a 
difficult process because of time demands that everyone faces. Short of 
hiring a bus to stop and pick up everyone, or having a side show, 
the choice are limited.

In the Town that I now work for, many people would like to return to the
traditional method. Attendance is still spotty at Public Hearings, the
Deliberative Session is not very well attended and people get overwhelmed
in the voting booth with many warrant articles to vote on, it is
especially daunting if they have not done their homework.

So there is not an easy answer. I do like the fact that people in an SB2
Town do get a chance to cast their vote. I like the fact that even
residents who are out of town either by choice or other can still vote
via absentee ballot and take a part in the Town’s decisions and have a
say in how the Town proceeds etc. As an Administrator I need direction
from the people to know what they want, what they are willing to finance
and what items they are not. I grew up in the 1960’s in a small town in
southern NH, town meeting was held on the Tuesday evening following
voting, a supper was served and everyone came. People got to visit with
everyone, I remember one meeting when the meeting was paused so all the
men could go and rescue horses that had fallen through the ice on an
area pond. I am sorry to say that those times are gone. The Town’s
business is more important, much more money involved and takes longer
and requires commitment from those attending. I appreciate that, while
I might not agree with them all the time, I admire them for attending.

I hope I have at least given you some points to consider, I don’t know
the answer, there is good and not so good in each method. My personal
opinion is that at least with SB2 more folks can have a say. Not to say
that the deliberative session cannot cause havoc with original warrants
and intent.

Good luck,

Dana I. Hadley
Town Administrator
Town of Canaan
PO Box 38
Canaan, New Hampshire 03741

27 12 2007
myway1950

Don,
I live in Hopkinton and belong to the taxpayers association here in town. The idea of SB2 is being considered. I would be greatly interested in any information you come up with. In the meantime, I will email friends in Windham, NH, where SB2 has been passed, to see if they can get the word out and respond to your request. We left Windham just as SB2 was passed and we have not heard any big complaints.
I will share with you one observation I have made on my own. I have heard the argument that SB2 is not working because very few people show up to the deliberative sessions. My response to that would be that perhaps people do not want to sit and listen to the most vocal people in town try to sell their ideas. With technology what it is today, a public online forum would be more effective and would allow more people to be heard, as well as express themselves clearly without heated emotion which is so frequent in town meetings.
Part of my research is to see if I can find out if these towns with SB2 have the statistics on how many people are voting now as compared to at town meetings. If you already have that information, would you share it? If not, I would be happy to pass on anything I learn.
Sincerely,
Diane Lachance

13 01 2008
myway1950

SB 2 voting is championed by some as an improvement in small-town democracy because more people cast ballots in SB 2 voting districts than participate in town and school district meetings. Perhaps that’s an advantage. But it appears to me that the real result of SB 2 voting is simply that more people who have little idea what they are voting on vote.

The John Stark Regional High School district held an SB 2 public hearing on Jan. 9. Four out of several thousand Henniker and Weare citizens attended. That’s less than one in 1,000. It’s time to resurrect school meetings at John Stark.

JOHN V. KJELLMAN

Henniker

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