Sunday, February 17, 2013

Years later, SB2 still spurs debate

Nearly 20 years after legislators permitted towns to let residents make major town decisions by paper ballot, officials still are trying to tweak the law that sparks debate over its fairness every year.

Rep. Frederick Rice, R-Hampton, has submitted a bill this year to protect warrant articles submitted by residents from being amended during deliberative sessions to prevent "shenanigans and tomfoolery" of past years from squashing the article's original purpose.

About a third of the state's residents and more than half its student population live under Senate Bill 2 rule, where warrant articles dealing with budgets, town purchases and zoning articles are discussed - and potentially amended - at a deliberative session required in early February before the final articles get voted on at the polls on the second Tuesday in March.

"There is more legislation filed every year to change or alter parts of Senate Bill 2 than almost any statute that we would follow over at the State House," said Judy Silva, deputy director for legal, advocacy & communications services at the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Next month, Temple for the ninth straight year will vote on whether to adopt SB2, in an effort for voters to have a say in town affairs without sitting through a multihour meeting with their neighbors.

"The core group in town believes in a town meeting where you deliberate and also vote on it," Town Clerk Wendy Drouin said. Last year's warrant article to adopt SB2 received 48 percent support, shy of the 60 percent needed.

Temple, a town of 981 registered voters located between Nashua and Keene, sends its children to the ConVal School District, which follows SB2. "Unfortunately at the polls, uneducated voters show up," Drouin said.

But others, including Jim Adams, chairman of the Granite State Taxpayers, said the SB2 method has "proven to be a very good way of governance" to allow greater participation.

"This is an excellent vehicle, so everyone who votes in the election has a say in their ... taxes in their community," Adams said.

Ken Grant, who heads the Barrington Taxpayers Association, saw his submitted warrant article about voting on who pays for roads and sewers amended at the deliberative session in 2007, stripping everything but the article's first two words, "To see."

After the state Supreme Court in 2008 sided with the town, the Legislature in 2011 changed the SB2 law to better protect petition warrant articles, according to Silva. Added in the law: "No warrant article shall be amended to eliminate the subject matter of the article. An amendment that changes the dollar amount of an appropriation in a warrant article shall not be deemed to violate this sub-paragraph."

Grant said he thinks the town "took away the rights of the voters who were working hard for this petitioned warrant article" to get before voters.

He backs Price's attempt to change the law but he also likes that SB2 gets more people voting on town issues than under the old town meeting format. He acknowledged there is a cost to that.

"I think the low-information voter speaks for the country," he said. "They go from watching game shows down to the ballot box."

The state municipal association examined 27 towns and found that an average of 2.4 percent of registered voters attended the deliberative sessions in 2010 and 25.5 percent of registered voters voted on the budget at the polls.

Silva said many voters in SB2 towns don't recognize their full responsibilities.

"One of the things I always say to people, I think that to the extent that people feel under the SB2 form of government they only have to show up and vote, they don't have to go to the deliberative session, I think they're missing out on half the meeting and a critical step of the process," she said.

"It really is much the same process you have at a traditional town meeting, but you put off the final vote," Silva said. "If you want a say in the final question that gets voted on, you have to come to the deliberative session."

More than 65 towns and around 80 school districts operate under SB2. It requires 60 percent support to adopt or repeal the SB2 official ballot format.

"It's still a very popular form of government and it remains popular," said economist Dennis Delay, who has done research on the topic for the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies in Concord.

"Some towns, it becomes very argumentative on whether it's a good idea or not," he said.

The Legislature passed SB2 in 1995, towns began adopting it the following year and the first towns started using the ballot format in 1997.

More than 40 towns that have tried to adopt SB2 have failed. And more than 30 towns have failed in their attempts to repeal it, according to the state Department of Revenue Administration.

Between 1996 and 2006, three communities repealed SB2 - Enfield, Dorchester and Orange, according to a report by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies. No school districts repealed the measure during that time.

About a third of New Hampshire residents live in a town with a traditional town meeting, another third under SB2 rule and the remaining third in communities with a city council, according to Delay. He also analyzed the per-person spending for town expenses among SB2 and non-SB2 communities.

"I couldn't find any data that says SB2 towns spend more or less," he said.

SB2 towns and school districts "tend to be larger, they tend to have more people in them than the traditional town meeting towns and school districts," Delay said. "I think that speaks to again, as the town grows, there is a form of government that works better than the traditional town meeting."


Etched in Stone said...

SB2, in it's initial concept was a good one. It was brought forth to encourage a larger voter participation, through the Australian Ballot. The privacy and convenience of using the voting both. As with most thiIngs, there was a down side. The deliberative session. It has been used to change the intent of many well intentioned petitioned warrant articles, and preventing freedom of choice in voting on the ballot. It is hopefull that the legislature will regognize this fact, and not allow this practice to continue in the future. "As Petitioned", should be the catch word to forward articles for a ballot vote.

Anonymous said...

The deliberative, is mostly employees, friends and family and its not all about apathy. The deck is stacked in favour of the select board and the employee and as a group they have plenty of time to prepare for any challenge that may arise. That's enough to discourage some voters and lets not forget, Saturday is a WORK day for most of us. Its good to see something might change in the future.

Anonymous said...

It most likely would not be a problem if more people showed up at the deliberative session including all who signed petition warrant articles.

Anonymous said...

Who cares who the people are. They are all registered votors, thus pay taxes etc.

Anonymous said...

The main issue is we need more voter involvement. There is one poster on this blog that constantly calls people names and is very offensive. Talking about how nobody cares and how Winchester is never going to change and they basically call the people of this town stupid....

That is not leadership. That is the reason people don't vote or get involved. People lack that poster make people afraid their opinion will be attacked. What that poster needs to do is put their energy to good use.

We need leadership in this town. People that are not afraid to speak their mind. People that are not afraid to challenge the normal. Not trying to make change by childishly calling people names and making them feel stupid.

Many people seem to think they will get people to think how they think by beating others down. Or saying their opinion over and over again. Many of those people hide behind electronic words. They are not the ones in the parking lot speaking to anyone who will listen. They are not the ones that call other dumb because they don't agree with them.

Change take courage. And if you don't have courage then you don't have confidence in what you believe in and your opinion will never be infectious and spark change.

This blog is a great place to speak your mind. But even in today's society speaking face to face is how you convey your message.

Take action. Hold an information session. Gather a group of people and talk. Speak to strangers on the street. And most importantly VOTE!!!

cronyism said...

Feb. 20th 9am poster is correct. But when you vote, for example, No cruiser, and they find a way to get one anyway, it kind of makes you wonder why you took the time to vote. Word is, 1 cruiser is being painted and another 1 has been ordered. Looks like one of our employees daughter will be employed by the PD, and the rumor is that one of our selectmen will be taking the Town Administrator's position and possibly another selectman taking the Chiefs job when he leaves. If all this happens 2 selectmen will be appointed and the people that run this town will have more power then ever.By the way, I think the way around a vote is to lease.

Anonymous said...

Thank you 9am. I am not a resident nor even live in NH but check on this site from time to time and agree that the name calling and the same thing with the insults doesn't help things. I am still seeing the same negative comments, written the same way for over 2 years now!
If that type of behavior and disrespect worked..... things would have changed by now! Thanks for adding some level headed common sense to this site!

Is stuppid spelled with to 'p s" said...

We have had people that tried to take the initiative by acting on their own to help others who refuse to get involved. For instance the people that started this blog site or the people that sent the informational letter to every house in town only to educate and inform you the people of some of the corruption and cover-up that spewed out of the town hall. What support did they receive from the others as the town hall people and town employees smeared, attacked, defamed and personally insulted people standing up for you. These people who tried to inform you were not afraid to speak their minds or afraid to challenge the normal as you call it! What did they do? Nothing! Nothing to help! No support! Nothing!

Look around and then they are gone!

We have just gone through a period of more people working hard to stand-up, speak-out on your behalf ever in the forty years I have live here. Look around and then they are gone!

What do you call people that will allow 1.5 % of the voters to increase your tax bill. What do you call people that rather stay home and allow others to tax you out of your homes. As your escrow payment increases because of property tax, so goes your mortgage payment. When your mortgage plus your escrow payment are not made on time, so goes your home. So what do you call these people, are they rocket scientist? No! They are either illiterate, uneducated or stupid. I rather think they are the latter.

People like me are not childishly trying to make them feel stupid, they are doing good job all by themselves!

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should use the term President Obama uses to describe the senate and house of representatives, these people over there are not smart. I suggest we refrain from using stupid and use “not smart” instead!

Thank you for your comment out-of-town. Have you seen any other town that is so pathetic?

Encarta “1. pitiful 2.contemptibly inadequate: so inadequate as to be laughable or contemptible”!

VOTE said...

Most of us run into Winchester residents everyday that have one complaint or another about the way this town is run. If 99% of these people were asked to support this web site or another informational letter they would have an excuse as to why they couldn't and then run like hell. Brian's, explain the ballot on Mar.4th should be packed, but the same people I am talking about are afraid someone from the town hall might see them there. Two or three people can not save this town, at least get informed and vote.

the Winchester Informer said...

To the person(s) complaining about the term stupid used on this blog by several commenters and the person who commented ( wrong thread ) that we ( the blog administrators ) condone the use of the term because we allow it's use in comments by others.

In the famous words of Forest Gump:
" stupid is as stupid does"

Meaning, in this case, Stupidity is demonstrated by one's actions or non-actions. In other words, if you act stupid or perform stupid acts, then others may refer to you as stupid.

People who raise not a question, or objection, nor get involved when their pockets are being fleeced in the opinion of many commenters on this blog are of questionable intelligence.

We do not agree with people calling others stupid, no matter the reasons; but each of you are under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, entitled to your own opinions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you posters on February 20 for the information regarding the select people. This makes it much easier for those of us who vote to chose decent representation. Their egos must be inflated as they seem to think that they are the only qualified people for any jobs in this town. We need to rally the voters so that once again we are not hoodwinked into believing that certain selectmen know best. Hmm is the beaver dam paid for out of our dollars? Food for thought!

F.O.B (friends of beavers or full of bull said...

ref last Annoy; Thanks for mentioning Beaver Dam Gus Ruth Friend of the Woodland Creatures, see the Ruth’s 4 acre beaver pond has broken on several occasions and once he received a certified letter from the town and a bill for repairs to the town roads. Oh! Beaver Dam Gus Ruth Friend of Woodland Creatures never paid the town for repairs. After receiving certified warning notice for liability, the beaver dam broke again when Katrina hit and washed out three roads and two bridges. Ole Beaver never paying a penny again.

F.O.B Friends of the Beaver said...

Do you want the F.O.B. Beaver Dam Gus Ruth seated on your planning board and making judgments on your wet lands. Talk about hypocrite. Vote all the cronies out. This year lets start over.

Anonymous said...

If you go to deliberative and question any department, you better not need that dept. in the future. Or better yet, question hwy and see how much snow is dumped in your yard when the next storm arrives.

Anonymous said...

If hwy does that then we need to fire Dale! Perhaps two new select people will help us out with this situation along with the LUA person.