Like the coming of spring for everyone tired of winter’s March overkill, Town Meeting time is hovering just over the horizon for civic-minded residents of Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott.
Town Meeting warrants will be fleshed out with articles in time for the late April and early May meetings and it will be interesting to see if each town’s annual exercise in democracy mirrors major concerns percolating in them.
Will the upheaval that catapulted Nahant Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren into an indefinite leave manifest itself when residents gather for Town Meeting and elections in late April? The Board of Selectmen, presumably doing the voters’ will, charts the town’s course but with Chelgren out of the picture, whose hand is on the proverbial tiller of town government as the Town Meeting warrant takes shape?
February’s fiery public discussions on Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center are sure to continue at Nahant Town Meeting thanks to the wetlands zoning proposal slated for inclusion on the warrant. Will that debate propel the town and the Center past a point of no return when it comes to their relationship?
School building needs and, by extension, the direction of education in Marblehead and Swampscott could be debating points during their respective May Town Meetings. Worsening maintenance problems at the venerable Gerry School are setting the stage for Town Meeting to ask two questions: How is the town going to provide students with sufficient modern school space and have town leaders followed a sensible course in addressing local school building needs?
Similar questions could surface during Swampscott’s Town Meeting with the reemergence of a plan for a town-consolidated elementary school. The consolidation concept — if it sees the light of day — is an emotional lightning rod for parents and significant planning decision for town leaders.
Speaking of leadership, how will Swampscott and Lynnfield town moderators and elected officials steer Town Meeting debate if the still-contentious subject of rail trails somehow emerge during Town Meeting? Lynnfield Town Meeting split over a local rail trail at last spring’s Town Meeting and the Swampscott rail trail discussion left a bitter taste in the mouths of people opposed to the trail.
And that brings us to Saugus. State Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has sent town officials letters concerning town compliance with state Opening Meeting laws twice in the last year. One letter from the AG should be a source of alarm for any town. Two letters should constitute an embarrassment and cause for discussion.
Town government is perhaps the most basic form of democracy in America and how to improve transparency and efficiency are questions requiring debate and periodic revisitation in order to ensure town residents’ voices are clearly heard.
Town Meeting exemplifies democracy and here is hoping a fair airing of town concerns is reflected in all warrants prepared for Lynnfield, Nahant, Marblehead, Saugus and Swampscott this spring. Let the debates begin.