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SB2 vs. Town Meeting on ballot for both school and town

Two petition articles before voters this year will attempt to change the way both the school and town are currently run: If passed, one would switch the school district from ballot voting to district meeting, while the other would have the opposite affect, replacing Town Meeting with ballot voting.

(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

Two petition articles before voters this year will attempt to change the way both the school and town are currently run: If passed, one would switch the school district from ballot voting to district meeting, while the other would have the opposite affect, replacing Town Meeting with ballot voting. (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

MASON — The ongoing debate over traditional Town Meeting versus ballot-only voting will be put to the test twice in the same town.

One petition warrant article in Mason proposes the school district rescind ballot voting for all warrant items and instead adopt a district meeting. The other, meanwhile, takes the opposite approach — proposing to do away with Town Meeting in favor of ballot voting for all issues.

The town of Mason currently operates under a Town Meeting format, where residents gather on a single day in March to hear the budget and warrant articles. Voters can speak for or against articles, make amendments and vote on the issues, by voice, by hand or by secret ballot. The school district currently runs on a format known as Senate Bill 2, or SB2, where the school’s issues are discussed and amended at a deliberative session, and then voted on during polling hours.

A public hearing in front of the Select Board on Tuesday on the petition warrant, brought by resident Robert Ziminsky, to become an SB2 town generated no discussion, with no residents speaking on the issue. None of the residents who signed the petition article attended the meeting.

In the past, however, the decision on whether to pass an article implementing SB2 has proven to be a dividing one at the polls. For three years in a row, articles seeking to make the switch have gotten majority support, but never quite enough to reach the 60 percent majority needed to change the system.

Some years have been extremely close, however. In 2011, 255 voters voted yes to take on SB2, while 185 voted no. If only nine voters had made a different decision, the article would have passed. In previous years, there have been even closer votes. In 2010, the article failed by a margin of only six votes (303 yes and 211 no), and in 2009, it failed by only two votes (219 yes and 149 no).

On the other side of the issue is the Mason School District. The district has operated under the SB2 system since 2010, and a petition warrant article on the ballot this year proposes to use a district meeting format instead. The Mason School Board also held a public hearing on the subject this week, during its regularly scheduled meeting Monday.

Like the town’s public hearing, the School Board also saw scant attendance, but the three residents who attended all spoke in favor of doing away with ballot voting and adopting a meeting format.

Resident Garth Fletcher told the School Board that since the district has implemented SB2, there has been very little participation from the district’s residents, and he believed that would change if people were required to attend a district meeting in order to cast their vote.

Fletcher pointed out that only 26 people had attended the school’s deliberative session, which was about 1 voter in 60 in the district.

Resident David Hodges pointed out that without a district meeting, he feels there is no real deliberative body in town. One of the arguments in favor of SB2 is some voters feel intimidated speaking against the majority in a public forum. Hodges argued that it is the moderator’s job to shut down any intimidation, and the format of district meeting allows for a secret ballot on any article, as long as the motion is supported by five voters.

Resident Trish Cross said that one of the favorable intentions of SB2 is to allow voters to hear the arguments of both sides at the deliberative session and allow them to consider them before voting at the polls.

“But that doesn’t happen, because no one comes to the deliberative session,” she pointed out. Cross said she was in favor of disbanding the current SB2 system. “I thought it was a dreadful idea when it first came up, and I still do,” she said.

Ballot voting in Mason will be held on March 12 in the Town Hall from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Town Meeting will be held March 16 at 9 a.m. at he Mason Elementary School.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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