Letter: Town meeting left me disenfranchised

EastBayRI.com ·

To the editor:

I’m writing to comment on the poor timing and organization of the financial town meeting on March 16. As essentially a second vote to authorize the new middle school, this meeting was extremely important to all members of our community. As such, our leaders should have better anticipated the enormous turnout and lengthy debate period that ensued.  

My wife and I attended the meeting with our three young children. We arrived by 6:45 and eventually sat in the cafeteria overflow space (the event did commendably offer babysitting which we declined to take advantage of).  Due to the large crowd, the meeting didn’t commence until close to 7:45.  

The kids soldiered on (and were surprisingly well-behaved) for quite a while but by just after 9 p.m. with voting nowhere in sight, they all started to crash. I made the decision to forego my vote and take them home to bed (on a school night) while my wife remained to cast her ballot. Even if we had used the babysitting service, we would have made the same decision.  

My wife and I observed a number of other families with children also leave early before voting due to the late hour. Ideally, we wouldn’t have had to bring our kids with us in the first place, but we don’t have family in the area to care for them and at-home babysitting wasn’t available to us on the night of the meeting.

I understand and respect the value (and state mandate) for free and open debate, but could the event have been scheduled earlier in the evening to finish around 9 instead of after 11 p.m.? Could the meeting have happened on a weekend morning with an extended voting period after public comments and questions to enable to largest number of people to have their votes counted? 

As it stands, I had no vote on March 16 and depending on the outcome of the meeting, my vote in November in favor of the middle school may also be rendered meaningless. I respect the many reasoned and valid arguments both for and against the construction and financing of a new middle school. On issues of obvious importance and community engagement like this, I implore the town to do a better job of organizing and executing meetings to ensure that all voices are heard publicly and that all voters have easy, reasonable access to cast their ballots.

That may have been the intention on March 16, but it certainly wasn’t the outcome.

Matthew Donato


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