I’ve been spending a good chunk of my non-work time this month preparing for moderating the Special Town Meeting coming up in Charlton on Tuesday. There are several million dollars worth of spending up for voting, as well as different town boards that may want to amend each other’s motions, plus the possibility of a secret ballot vote. All sorts of excitement, and I’m very much looking forward to it.
On the minus side, I think that tonight is the only weeknight this week that I’ll get to spend some nontrivial time with my family. But, town meetings don’t happen that often, so they’re pretty understanding.
There was a very amusing column in the Opinion section of today’s Southbridge Evening News, reprinted on the author’s blog. It very much describes what it feels like to live in this part of the state sometimes.
As I’ve mentioned before, instead of the Social Security tax that private-sector workers pay, government workers (at least those working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its subdivisions) have an alternative 7.5% mandatory contribution to the “SMART Plan”. This is an actual account, kind of like a 401(k), where one actually has an account balance that slowly grows and one gets at retirement. (Those working full-time for the state have a more complex system, but I’m describing how it works for part-time workers, where it’s just a straight deduction and there are no choices on how it’s invested.)
Jessi was involved in this plan when she was substitute teaching, although we eventually managed to get the money out of it when she stopped working. (Which is a plus of this system over Social Security.)
For being Town Moderator of Charlton, I get a $150 stipend per year for my services. This is treated as me basically being a part-time employee of Charlton, and so my stipend is subject to this 7.5% mandatory contribution to the “retirement” plan.
This 7.5% of $150 works out to $11.25 per year. The administrator of the SMART Plan, Great-West Retirement Services, charges $18.48 per year to administrate the plan. Basically, each contribution will be eaten away by fees that go to Great West, and the balance of the “retirement” fund will always be zero at the end of the year.
My mom, who is on the Planning Board in town and has a slightly larger stipend, says that her balance ends up being about a dollar or two each year.
You’ve just got to love a government mandate that requires a portion of elected officials’ stipends go to administrative fees and that provides no actual useful value whatsoever.
I’m now done presiding over my first town meeting as Moderator. Overall, it went rather smoothly. There was an odd case that Town Meeting was mad that nobody from the Water/Sewer Commission was there to answer questions, so they didn’t pass the sewer budget at first, but eventually it was motioned to reconsider (once a representative from Water/Sewer was there), and I eventually allowed the reconsideration, which passed. Reconsideration is a tricky thing, as it’s helpful to allow it if a good reason exists to believe that Town Meeting has legitimately changed its mind, but one wants to not let people abuse it to lengthen meetings and try to change things once some people leave and the house is stacked in their side’s favor. In this case, I decided that there wasn’t enough debate and that cooler heads existed at this point in the meeting, and there was good reason to believe that the Town would change its mind, so I allowed it.
A lot of people came up to me after the evening and said I did a great job, so I guess I must have been alright.
I believe that a video of the meeting will be playing on local cable access eventually. I hope to watch it to see how I looked. If there’s interest, I might be able to make a recording available to others (I think it would fall under Public Domain, but that’s not immediately clear to me).
On Saturday, I head-judged Southern New England Magic Regionals, which went rather well. The only big issue was needing to re-pair a round after players had been seated and before they started playing, but things went great for the most part. Plus, we certified a new level-1 judge, which is always exciting.
Over the past week, I’ve been talking to, getting phone calls from, and getting emails from people such as the Town Administrator, Town Counsel (Charlton’s lawyer), the Town Clerk, and the chairman of the Finance Committee, all helping me to prepare for moderating Town Meeting tonight. I think I’m pretty prepared, and I’m looking forward to it, but it’s definitely a big step. There’s a lot of unknowns. Everything may get voted on with little debate, or people might get into some very heated discussions about some issues, over which I’ll need to maintain order. It should be an interesting experience, at any rate.
As the only person in town who expressed interest to the Selectmen, they tonight unanimously appointed me as the interim Town Moderator.
And next week’s Annual Town Meeting sounds like it may have several heated issues. This will be interesting.
I’ve heard from Mr. Singer (the former Town Moderator, recently elected to the Board of Selectmen) that he was told that the Selectmen will be appointing the vacant position of Town Moderator for the remainder of the year. Today’s Southbridge Evening News reports that it’s Mr. Singer himself who appoints his successor, although I’m pretty sure that that’s just another error by the paper. My reading of Town Meeting Time and M.G.L. c. 39 §14 says that the position is appointed “by the voters of the town”, which I think means that it would be selected at the next Town Meeting.
I sent an email last night to the office of the Board of Selectmen saying that I was interested, and I just called them to confirm they received it. They said that they had, and that they were checking with Town Counsel (the town’s lawyer) to see what exactly the procedure is.
In any event, I’ll be attending the Selectmen’s meeting tomorrow evening (their only meeting before the Town Meeting on May 18) to see the status. Even if they aren’t the appointing authority, it may be good for them to recommend somebody to Town Meeting, and at the very least whomever will be taking the job should be familiar with the warrant and the Selectmen’s expected motions on the articles.