EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 6, 2013

Moderator seeks transparency at Town Meeting

By Paul Tennant
ptennant@eagletribune.com

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Moderator Mark DiSalvo will soon be presiding over his second annual Town Meeting, which will convene May 21 at 7 p.m. in the North Andover High School auditorium.

DiSalvo, who won a three-way contest for the job in last year’s town election, instituted a number of procedural changes, including a rule that any voter who speaks on a particular article must disclose whether he or she has a financial interest in that article.

That rule, which DiSalvo said is unique to North Andover, will remain in place at this year’s Town Meeting, he said.

“At last year’s Town Meeting we honored the past and continued the evolution of Town Meeting that can best represent and serve North Andover at the present time,” he said.

Last year DiSalvo introduced new procedures and rules that he said were designed to “make the meeting both more transparent and efficient.”

The Town Charter gives the moderator the unilateral power to establish rules of procedure for Town Meeting. At Town Meeting last year, the auditorium looked very different from past years, including the introduction of a large overhead screen that displayed warrant articles, motions and changes to articles and motions in real time.

DiSalvo also allowed more informal conversation among participants for the purpose of easing voters’ understanding of the issues to be decided.

“I am pleased to note that Town Meeting attendees were extremely cooperative and embraced these new rules and operational changes,” DiSalvo said. There have been no changes in rules from last year, he added.

DiSalvo also announced that he would continue the live broadcast and Internet streaming of the annual Town Meeting. There were significant improvements in broadcast quality and sound fidelity of the live broadcast of the meeting instituted for the benefit of those citizens who could not attend, he said.

DiSalvo promised that these innovations will remain and some incremental new ones will accompany the practices that were experienced last year. When asked what they were, he smiled and said, “Come to Town Meeting and find out.”

North Andover’s open town meeting form of government has operated continuously since 1646.

“It represents the purest form of democracy in that every vote truly counts. Each registered voter is guaranteed an equal voice in the decisions made by the meeting,” DiSalvo said.

Any North Andover voter is entitled to attend the Town Meeting, participate in discussions and vote. Any North Andover resident who is at least 18 years old and is a United States citizen is eligible to register to vote.

DiSalvo said he has received pushback from fellow town moderators on the rule requiring speakers to disclose any personal financial interest they have in an article.

In establishing this first-of-its kind requirement in Massachusetts, DiSalvo explained it was “a simple common sense obligation by speakers to affirmatively disclose whether they, or an immediate family member, have a personal financial interest in the matter under discussion. While no other open town meeting addresses this issue I believe it to be, especially in a community as large as our own, an important responsibility to keep the meeting fair and open.”

DiSalvo also requires town employees as well as appointed and elected officials to identify their positions and whether they are speaking in an official capacity.

DiSalvo’s annual Moderator’s Message and “The Simplified Rules of Parliamentary Procedure” can be viewed on the moderator’s page of the town website at http://www.townofnorthandover.com/Pages/NAndoverMA_BComm/moderator. They are also available by request at the town clerk’s office.