Where is Joann Berry?

Acton Town Moderator Joann Berry has disappeared. If you see her, please have her call me. My home number is ......

I know Ms. Berry was in town last week, because I attended the Special Town Meeting. And I assume she will be in town tonight because we have a second Special Town Meeting, and she is the Town Moderator. But in between these two commitments, Berry could be vacationing on a remote island (without Internet service) or maybe she is doing a marathon yoga or meditation session and can't be disturbed.

The reason I want to speak with Ms. Berry is because at tonight's Special Town Meeting, we will be discussing a proposal to spend $120 Million Dollars on a new twin school project to replace two aging elementary schools, Gates and Douglas. And I have a plan to build what we need and save the town $120 million dollars. This will save the average Acton taxpayer $500 per year for the next 30 years.

My plan was briefly (well, as briefly as I can write) outlined last week on Acton Forum (See http://www.actonforum.com/blogs/allenn/better-school-plan). After writing my article, I decided that I should present a "con" presentation at the Special Town Meeting, so voters and taxpayers who attend can hear "both sides" of the issue before voting.

To me, a fair process is critical, not just so that we make good decisions, but as a basic issue of fairness. Most Town Meeting voters do not go to local board meetings and don't follow issues that closely. They TRUST our elected and appointed officials to handle things, and many are content with doing their civic duty, going to Town Meeting, and voting in support of whatever is proposed. It is a free country, and they can do that if they want.

Others, however, see Town Meeting as an important legislative body in which voters (i.e., taxpayers) approve of increases to their taxes upon due consideration of costs. For those voters, hearing about a plan that would save $120 million might be of great interest.

So this is why I wanted to speak to Ms. Berry. I wanted to ask her to allow me to make a "con" presentation of about 10 minutes prior to the school building vote. I have presented at Town Meeting before and while I do not particularly like public speaking, I do feel that voters should be given both sides of issues before they vote.

So on Saturday, Dec. 7, I sent Ms. Berry two emails, to two different email addresses, both listed as contact emails in the Town Warrant or the Town website for Ms. Berry, with no response to either. I included my number and asked her to call me by Sunday because I wanted to present on Tuesday night and wanted to know that was okay before I worked on my presentation.

Not hearing anything by Monday morning, I called the number listed for Ms. Berry in the Town Meeting warrant, and got the Town Clerk's office. I was transferred to the Town Manager's office where I left a message. No response from Ms. Berry.

It is now Tuesday morning and I am concerned. I looked up Ms. Berry's home number but the number I called was disconnected (land lines!) Will we need to appoint a Temporary Moderator to take over if Ms. Berry is unavailable?

Or...perhaps... Ms. Berry is choosing not to respond to my request. Perhaps Ms. Berry believes that Town Moderators are players in local issues and she does not wish me to present a "con" presentation. Ms. Berry used to be a member of the School Committee and maybe she feels that preventing opposing speakers from addressing Town Meeting is good public policy. If so, then we should appoint a Temporary Moderator tonight because she is horribly conflicted and confused.

I ended up putting together my 10-minute presentation and will attend Town Meeting, and if Ms. Berry is present, I will be happy because nothing bad has happened to her personally. But then, I will make a motion to ask Town Meeting to allow me to present my information in a 10-minute presentation. I assume and expect that I will be the only dissenting presenter against Warrant Article One.

If voters want to hear "both sides" then they will allow me to speak. If voters have already made up their minds and they don't want to have me document how defeating this proposal and replacing it with a new elementary school building that serves a single school (instead of a twin school) that saves taxpayers $120 million over 30 years, then they will vote not to allow me to speak and then Ms. Berry's decision not to return my call or emails will be vindicated.

Or maybe Ms. Berry will send me an email and give me my damn 10 minutes.

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Comments

10 minute presentation versus 2 minute comment

If there is a 10-minute "pro" presentation with no "con" presentation, there is a need, currently unfulfilled, to have balance. A presentation offers that balance, not only with prepared arguments, but slides and visuals. I had thought that the town welcomes both sides to be presented, with each side's time divided by the number rising with offers to do so.

To have one side presentation followed by both sides 2-minute comments, without consideration of an opposing presentation, may facilitate a 'yes' vote for the article, but a Pyrrhic victory for proponents at best.

You are correct, but minimize the problem

Hi Dave,

You are correct, but the problem is worse than you describe.

The presenters (all proponents) might number three, SC, BOS and FinCom. Each is given time. In a complicated proposal like this large school building project, I expect the school side will have 12 or 15 minutes.

Then, after the presentations are all done and comments begin, the proponents are routinely called upon to answer questions from the audience. Opponents are never given equal time.

So even being allowed a "con" presentation will probably give me less than half of the total speaking time. It is unfair by design.

Throw that in with the Acton philosophy of having all three boards be in agreement. There is rarely a "con" presentation by the political appointees and officials who really know what is going on. They all get on the same page in advance to minimize dissenting opinions and virtually guarantee passage of their proposals.

This is a completely rigged system, and Moderator Berry is just showing us how much.

Thanks for your comments,

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

JOANN BERRY SPEAKS -- refuses extra time

Jo-Ann Berry (joannberry@acton-ma.gov)
11:30 AM (41 minutes ago)
to me

Subject: Response sent on Sunday, apparently not delivered

Allen,

I appreciate your concerns but do not see that your standing for more time is any different than any other town meeting member. By your own admission, you have not been involved in the process for the past couple of years and though your concerns in the past were not incorporated into the current plan does not mean that they were not heard (I don't know one way or the other, but you had opportunity to weigh in). You do bring up several points and I would urge you to focus on those that you think are the most salient to your argument and that you can make in 2 minutes.

Jo-Ann Berry
Town Moderator

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

Nitschelm responds to Berry

Joann:

Your response is a version of "you weren't involved, so you don't get to object to the outcome." This is a false and destructive argument to Town Meeting, as MOST of the members present are not involved. They show up (like me, this year) to discuss projects big and small and sometimes they have important things to say that can't be done in two minutes.

I am not going to debate you via email, but I will ask you to allow a motion that I will make to grant me 10 minutes of time to make my presentation. Since it is the only opposing viewpoint (I assume), and since we will be hearing for a good 20 minutes about how great the school plans are, voters should be aware that they are not perfect and what this will mean for them in the next few years.

I will also prepare a two-minute presentation if Town Meeting refuses my request. Will you grant me permission to show slides even if I am not allowed a 10-minute presentation? Or is that also going to be denied?

In my opinion, while your Moderatorship last week was good, this is a terrible precedent, right in line with some of the rulings of your immediate predecessor. Your job as Moderator is to be impartial, not to help one side or the other. And if someone with credibility and something important to say wants to take their time to prepare a short presentation when we are looking to spend $120 million dollars and have a large property tax override, and you refuse that speech, you are a clear partisan and not acting objectively. It is a dereliction of duty and a violation of your office. Such a ruling is disgraceful and I predict you will look back on this with shame, but I will have the 10-minute presentation ready if you change your mind.

Allen

cc: ALG, BOS, SC, Fincom, Town Manager, School Superintendent, Town Counsel

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

We need varied voices..

Please let Allen make his presentation.