New in Town
"It's recommended that you relocate as soon as you can."
Glancing at the email from HR definitely made my impending transition to the Boston area feel more real. I remember starting my apartment hunt online—3,425 miles away during a work trip abroad in northern France.
Allston. Brighton. Cambridge.
The ABCs of Boston neighborhoods and East Coast cost of living were pretty much unknown to me, given that I had never even set foot in New England before. Yet, somehow, I was able to find a somewhat-affordable studio just outside of Boston.
As a typical Millennial urbanite, I was hesitant to leave behind the big-city trappings of Chicago for the well-manicured lawns of Brookline. Almost a year has passed, however, and the town has since won me over with its suburban charm and progressive politics, both of which take center stage in the most New-England of institutions: the Town Meeting.
What's Town Meeting?
"The town-meeting conception of democracy is an idealized way of expressing the democratic hope that those who are governed will be able to reach those who govern them, that they will be able to make their voices heard where it counts and will be recognized as persons and not as faceless cogs in an efficient machine.
It speaks for a belief that a society is safer and freer when the bulk of its citizens understand the programs and goals that their government has chosen and when they have achieved this understanding because these programs and goals have been honestly debated in public." —The Rockefeller Panel Report on American Democracy
Tracing back to the region's colonial roots, Town Meeting serves as the forum for a town's public life, where eligible voters engage in the business of governing, and as the annual gathering thereof. Brookline's Town Meeting enjoys a more than 300-year history, one that juxtaposes legislative innovation against the conservative NIMBYness characteristic of one of the Commonwealth's most affluent places to live. Nowhere else can such an uncomfortable union be seen than in the town Facebook group, an open outcry pit where residents and non-residents alike trade controversial opinions on topics ranging from racial justice to overnight street parking in exchange for virtual likes and occasional memes.
The Town Meeting in Brookline consists of a 240-seat legislature with 15 representatives elected from 16 precincts. Town Meeting Members (TMMs) serve on staggered, three-year terms and exercise the exclusive right to vote on matters coming before Town Meeting. A five-person Select Board functions as the town's executive branch. In addition to TMMs and the Select Board, the Moderator, Town Clerk, and any Brookline-based state legislator participate as at-large Members of Town Meeting.
Brookline holds an Annual Town Meeting each spring in late May and then a regular Special Town Meeting in November prior to Thanksgiving. Regardless of when its held, a Town Meeting revolves around the warrant and its articles.
So, what's a "warrant"?
A warrant functions as the notification issued by the Select Board to all residents that a Town Meeting will take place and as the agenda of what will be discussed. A warrant article is basically an agenda item to be addressed during Town Meeting. You can think of a warrant article like a bill waiting to become a (by)law (cue School House Rock).
The Select Board may propose articles and Brookline residents can petition for one or more to be included in a warrant.
As a relative newcomer, I found that educational resources to learn about each warrant article, other than those provided on the town website, were lacking. I'm aiming to fill the informational gaps with topical commentary that explores underlying issues such potential bylaws-to-be try to resolve and any ethical concerns posed by the concrete data (or lack thereof) informing legislation. In the age of fake-news skepticism and polarized punditry, the need for well-informed citizens becomes more pressing everyday, especially at the local level.
The blog is an attempt to shed a little light on the democratic drama that is local politics, while analyzing how data and ethics intersect in other fields as well. Hopefully we can learn together.
Any thoughts on a topic I should cover? Feel free to send me a note!
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