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Feb. 15 hearing set on SB2 citizens petition


January 13, 2010
WHITEFIELD — A petitioned warrant article has been accepted that will give voters a chance to decide whether they want to stick with the traditional New England town meeting in Whitefield or adopt what is known as the SB2 form of local governance.

SB2 was passed in 1995 by the state legislature and went into effect the following year.

A public hearing on the question is scheduled at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Whitefield town offices.

Twenty-six registered voters signed the petition. A list of the petitioners is available at the town office.

If the SB2 measure passed at town meeting it would eliminate future town meetings, replacing them with official ballot voting on the second Tuesday of March, which would be preceded by a First Deliberative Session at which the town's operating budget would be presented and the default budget total announced.

After discussion under the gavel of a moderator at the deliberative session, all registered voters present vote to place each article on the March ballot including its precise wording and, if a money article, on the exact sum of money to be listed. Amendments to proposed warrant articles are passed by majority vote. No votes are taken on the merits of the proposals, however.

The White Mountains Regional School District operates under SB2, which comes under the provisions of state law, RSA 40:13.

"I'm in favor of the SB2 town meeting format," explained petitioner Mark Lufkin, who interrupted work on Friday afternoon at Lufkin's busy Gulf station.

Town employees who live out of town, like Chief Bill Colborn, can attend and vote at their own town meetings, Mr. Lufkin explained.

SB2 allows voters who work an evening shift or have family responsibilities — young children or eldercare — a chance to vote. Now, he pointed out, often only one spouse can come and participate. Absentee ballots can also be cast, allowing the homebound or those who do not drive at night to participate.

The First Deliberative Session format allows voters to hear well-thought-out presentations, listen to any debate or differing viewpoints, and then vote on the wording, including wording or dollar-amount amendments, Mr. Lufkin noted.

When asked if he believed that people now feel intimidated by the presence of town employees who live in town and staff the town's various departments, such as fire, police, water, sewer, and highway, Mr. Lufkin replied that he had heard it said that that had been a factor in the push for change but that it had not been the motivation behind circulating the petition.

"Rarely has anything been changed at town meeting in my experience," he said. "I think more people would have a say in town government with SB2 — it would actually be more democratic."

"Maybe it's time for a change," said longtime resident Bob Stiles who noted that he has not yet decided how he will come out on the proposal.

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