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Moderator urges care in private channels, apologizes for confusion

Grge Christiana, 2022

In a letter to Town Meeting members May 27 Moderator Greg Christiana addresses "communication and managing confusing motions." The letter refers to a private message "published out of context without your permission by someone else." YourArlington has received that message and is choosing not to publish it for reasons of privacy.

I want to address two issues as we head into this Memorial Day weekend: communication among Town Meeting members via private messaging platforms like Slack, and the inelegant close of Wednesday night's meeting. 
 
First, concerns have been raised about the communication among Town Meeting members via private messaging platforms like Slack. One particular Slack channel has a sizable number of TMMs who have joined. Such communications via privately administered platforms are not an official part of Town Meeting and are not public records.

However, speakers at Town Meeting deserve the attention of Town Meeting members.

Focus on public discussion

When Town Meeting is in session, the focus of those in attendance should be on the public deliberation and not side conversations. I caution TMMs to be thoughtful about what they communicate via such platforms.

Anything you share in these communication channels may be published out of context without your permission by someone else, as recently happened. Your words reflect not just on you individually, but on the institution of Town Meeting.

I've also heard from TMMs who believe they've been excluded, perhaps unintentionally. For those administering private communication channels intended to be available to all TMMs, you might consider checking the latest public TMM contact list as additions have been made, especially for TMMs appointed after the election: www.arlingtonma.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/60527/637861589871770000p>

In general, a guiding principle we should all follow is to try to emulate what we do when meeting in person at Town Hall as much as possible. 

Notes steps aimed at avoiding confusion

Second, the close of Town Meeting on Wednesday night was messy. As moderator, I'm responsible for deciding all questions of order at Town Meeting, so the inelegant sequence of procedures near the close of the meeting is solely my responsibility. I apologize for the confusion. I've reviewed the video of that portion of the meeting to assess the decision points that I could have made differently. I want to highlight three particular decision points, and how I intend to prevent the kind of confusion we had Wednesday night from being repeated.  

(1) When I rejected the motion from the floor to amend the main motion of Article 37, I suggested that there are other procedural options the speaker might pursue, but I would not take the meeting's time to enumerate all of them. While I stand by my decision to reject the amendment from the floor in this case, and it would certainly take too long to enumerate all the procedural options available to the speaker, there are two options in particular that are the most obvious to consider under the circumstances. And in hindsight, there would be little cost to the meeting, and significant potential upside, for me to offer speakers, especially newer TMMs, these two options in cases where more time might best serve the meeting. The options are: (a) the article can be laid on the table by a two-thirds vote (to be removed from the table some time later by majority vote); or (b) the article can be postponed to a time certain by majority vote (e.g. "I move that consideration of this matter be postponed until after Article X has been disposed of"). Going forward, I will offer these options to speakers when I find it helpful to do so. 

(2) There was a question about whether someone could make a motion from a point of order. It's certainly unconventional, but as the movant pointed out during the meeting, I had recognized the speaker and recognized their motion. In order to set appropriate expectations and to preserve order, I want to be clear that going forward I will not recognize motions from points of order. 

(3) I asked for raised hands in Zoom for objections to the motion to lay Article 37 on the table. This was following the precedent of the other times we lay articles on the table (typically Article 3 for receiving reports of committees each session, but also several articles ahead of Article 55 and the financial articles). Clearly the vote was more contentious in this case, and was a poor use of raised hands for deciding the ultimate fate of the motion.

Going forward, when the number of raised hands in Zoom, relative to the number of TMMs in attendance, nears or exceeds the threshold for the quantum of vote, I will fall back to an officially tallied vote in the voting portal. (This does not apply to straw polls for terminating debate, which must meet a higher bar already established.)   


This letter to Town Meeting, which includes news and opinion, was published Saturday, May 28, 2022.

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