February 17, 2010
WHITEFIELD— The Board of Selectmen held an informational public hearing Monday night on the pros and cons of switching the town to an SB2 format and that sparked a heated discussion.
"It gives people the ability to vote on warrant articles without going to the meeting, but other then that I don't see that it's terribly helpful and if anything I think there is more negatives then positives," said Selectman Dwayne Hall.
The hearing was held because of a current petitioned warrant article asking to adopt the provisions of RSA 40 which is the SB2 form of town government.
Whitefield currently operates under a town meeting format where the operating budget and warrant articles are discussed and voted on at the meeting without it ending until everything has a clear resolution. The SB2 format consists of a deliberative session, from which the public can alter warrant articles and a voting day that is private and forces a voter to do research before hand or risk voting on something ill-informed.
Of the approximately eight people that went to the meeting there were very few that were outspoken.
Brad Lufkin, however, became the unofficial voice in favor of SB2 mainly because he felt it allows more people the chance to vote as not everyone can get to the big town meeting.
"People would like their voice heard that couldn't go and sit through something like that," said Mr. Lufkin referring to those that either have responsibilities of being a single parent, working odd hours or simply not physically able to sit through a potentially five hour town meeting, "There are a lot of people that just can't do it."
Also a prominent voice was Ken Russell who disagreed and commented that more votes were not of higher value than informed votes.
"It's not quantity of votes it's quality of votes," said Mr. Russell.
Selectman Wendy Hersom shared a similar sentiment. "I understand that some people can't make it, but what some folks are trying to say is that if you go to town meeting you have the avenue to have information available to you before you make your choice and you have to have the information because you hear the discussion before you get to vote," she said.
Mr. Lufkin also mentioned that information is available for people to make their own decisions before private SB2 voting and cited venues such as the newspaper that informs people of current issues.
Mrs. Hersom response was that news outlets were not as informative as a town meeting can be in that articles or budget items that are important to some are not always the ones that are reported on.
"No offense to the newspapers, but the newspapers aren't going to report every single part of the discussion that comes up," she said, "They give a summary and depending on who's making the summary could change the information drastically."
In theory a deliberative session would replace the town meeting, if the town followed SB2, as the one place voters could go and effect the warrant articles before they are placed on the ballot. A recent incident, however, has shaken Mr. Russell's confidence with an SB2 system that he readily referenced.
"The deliberative session in Twin Mountain was a fiasco in which a handful of people stayed to the end of the meeting and they amended the petitioned articles that were at the end of the warrant in which they took out everything except for the first two words 'to see'," he said.
The two sides were clearly divided in the argument for involvement/convenience for voters versus a thorough discussion, but which one is more important is, ironically, for the town to decide.