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North Andover Town Meeting Goes Digital

The town moderator will institute a historic initiative next month.

File photo.
File photo.
The following is a news release from North Andover Town Moderator Mark DiSalvo:

In the two years since his election as Town Moderator Mark S. DiSalvo has established a reputation as an innovator in the over 400-year history of Town Meeting. This year he offers a historic initiative never before taken anywhere in the country.

This year he will allow questions to be presented by citizens outside the Town Meeting venue.

“We need to ensure that Town Meeting does not become an anachronism—a dinosaur of governance anchored to history and not relevant to the lives and society in which we live,” said DiSalvo. “North Andover will once again innovate. Many have wondered why we can’t have a virtual Town Meeting. I have little doubt that such an experience will yet happen in generations hence." 

"Government practice and law do not allow such drastic opportunity, however, that does not mean we cannot incrementally experience the future,” wrote DiSalvo in his annual Message of the Moderator to be published in the Annual Town Warrant on April 28th to all citizens. Town Meeting will take place on Tuesday 20 May at 7 p.m. at the North Andover High School auditorium.

In allowing questions from outside the meeting room DiSalvo hopes to expand the awareness of and interest in Town Meeting. To that end he required the live broadcast and live-streaming of the meeting on the web and mobile and made significant improvements in broadcast quality and sound fidelity for the benefit of those citizens who could not attend, affording a richer and more comfortable Town Meeting experience for all—whether they were in the room or not.

"Apropos of that, I have always believed that Town Meeting has two constituencies – those who attend, participate and vote in the meeting and those who are governed by what is decided at Town Meeting. This fact begged this new initiative,” commented DiSalvo.

“It is important to note that the power of the meeting remains with those who do take the time and effort to be present, listen, deliberate and vote at the meeting. While all power is in the room, all knowledge may not be in attendance. I do not know how this initiative will work out but we must not be afraid to continue attempting improvement in Town Meeting. I look forward to this trial test and anticipate the cooperation of all,” noted DiSalvo.

Special rules and procedures will be in place as the meeting experiments with this innovation. Citizens observing the meeting but unable to attend will be allowed to email questions to a secure website and, after proper vetting for redundancy and voter identity, have their question posed to the meeting. DiSalvo will only allow questions to be presented - no statements of position, amendments or motions will be allowed.

“I will be ready to impose severe time limits on the period of outside the room queries so as not to disrespect those who attend Town Meeting,” stated DiSalvo.

Further, questions will only be accepted if presented when a specific article is under discussion for which that question pertains. “It will require that a citizen is engaged in the meeting in the moment while watching or listening to the meeting live,” noted DiSalvo, “just as a citizen in the room. No gamesmanship or efforts to hijack the meeting by partisans for or against a specific article will be tolerated,” DiSalvo firmly stated.

The initiative has been vetted by the Town Clerk and IT Director. Email monitoring at the meeting will be conducted by the League of Women Voters and DiSalvo will have no role in determining what questions are asked. “It is my obligation to assure that Town Meeting makes the most informed judgments it can, not to influence the judgment but to guide the discussion so all citizens are best served,” suggested the Moderator.

Also revealed in the annual Moderator’s message were the rules of procedure to be utilized at this spring’s Annual Town Meeting. They are largely the same as last year other than DiSalvo expanding the requirement of personal financial disclosure to “in-laws” of a speaker. DiSalvo characterizes the changes as “an evolution of current rules to better ensure a fair, open and efficient Town Meeting.”

He invites all to attend the May 20th at the High School and continue practicing North Andover’s Open Town Meeting form of government since 1646. “It represents the purest form of democracy in that every vote truly counts. Each registered voter in attendance is guaranteed an equal voice in the decisions made by the meeting. In order to protect the sanctity of that vote, the North Andover Town Charter empowers the Town Moderator to establish the rules of procedure under which Town Meeting is to be conducted. These rules are “historically based on the traditions established by generations of North Andover citizens as legislators of their local government,” said DiSalvo in announcing what is officially called ‘The Simplified Rules of Parliamentary Procedure.’

Two years ago DiSalvo imposed the requirement that personal financial interest be disclosed to the meeting. No written rule existed and DiSalvo said he thought it was “a simple common sense obligation by speakers to affirmatively disclose whether they have, or an immediate family member has, a personal financial interest in the matter under discussion. I have found no other Open Town Meeting that addresses this issue and believe it to be, especially in a community as large as our own, an important responsibility to keep the meeting fair and open.” DiSalvo said he actively sought other communities seeking such language and found only one representative town meeting with similar language that he has adopted. DiSalvo’s rules also require Town employees, and/or appointed or elected officials to identify their position and whether or not they are speaking in an official capacity.

‘The Simplified Rules of Parliamentary Procedure’ are included in the final report of the Finance Committees, all members of which DiSalvo appoints, and can be viewed on the Town Moderator’s page of the Town web site at http://www.townofnorthandover.com/Pages/NAndoverMA_BComm/moderator

In addition they are printed and available to all attendees at Town Meeting. DiSalvo is a long time lecturer at the full-time MBA program at the Johnson School of Business at Cornell University where he contributes and leads case studies. He also lectures at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University and is a frequent speaker and moderator at professional conferences and symposia. DiSalvo is founder and CEO of Semaphore, a global firm providing advisory and funds-under-management services to state and private pension plans. The firm takes over troubled venture and private equity funds and is a New Markets Tax Credit provider.

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