Table of Contents
Winchester--Village and Town
In addition to approving the Town budget, Town Meeting makes, amends, or repeals zoning or Town Charter by-laws. Charter changes must then be approved by a referendum at the next election before enactment.
Special Committees are created to study complex issues that face the town - recent studies have included a Study of Solid Waste Disposal by the NESWIC Communities to study cost options of trash disposal and the Educational Facilities Planning and Building Committee to study and recommend ways to rehabilitate the town's school buildings. These Committees report their findings and recommendations to Town Meeting for any further action. After completing the specific charge given to these committees, they are dissolved by Town Meeting.
The Town Charter also provides a mechanism for Special Town Meetings which can be convened by a vote of the Selectmen to deal with matters that require immediate action.
Town Meetings - A New England Tradition
Prior to 1927, every registered voter was a member of Town Meeting. After extension of suffrage to women in 1920, the larger number of voters found it difficult to crowd into Town Hall. Problems arose in conducting business so that all who wished to could participate in debate. Winchester petitioned the state legislature for permission to adopt a limited or representative Town Meeting, and in 1928, the new system was adopted. Town Meeting them consisted of 33 members elected from each of six districts plus certain elected officials who voted as Members-at-large; a total of 233 voting members.
In the period of suburban growth following the Second World War. Winchester's population increased at a rapid rate. Managing of Town affairs became increasingly complex. There were pressures to professionalize the government, to give part-time and volunteer boards full-time administrative help. In 1974 a nine-member Charter Commission was elected for the purpose of writing the first Town Charter. In 1975, a Charter for the Town of Winchester was adopted by the voters under the Home Rule Amendment to Massachusetts' Constitution.
Under the terms of the Charter, a Selectman-Town Manager form of government was established. The Town Meeting members were changed to the current 192 Town Meeting Members. Town Meeting Members serve without salary compensation.
Town Meeting Membership
Any voter is eligible for election to Town Meeting by filing nomination papers with the Town Clerk. Any Town Meeting Member may become a candidate for re-election by filing written notice with the Town Clerk at least 14 days before the election.
If any Town Meeting Member fails to attend half of the sessions held in one twelve month period, the seat may be declared vacant by a two-thirds vote of the Meeting.
Vacancies are filled until the next election by a vote of the remaining Members of that voting precinct. The League of Women Voters publishes a list of Town Meeting Members currently serving. Copies of the list may be obtained free of charge at the offices of the Town Clerk, the Public Library, through the League of Women Voters, and at any Town Meeting session.
Town Meeting convenes on the fourth Monday in April and on the first Monday in November, and continues, by adjournment, until all business is completed. By custom, sessions are held on Monday nights and Thursday nights in consecutive weeks until dissolution. The Selectmen may call a Special Town Meeting should urgent business arise that requires immediate attention.
The size and delineation of the eight voting precincts are reviewed and revised by the Board of Selectmen at least once every ten years, as directed by vote of Town Meeting. Revision is required when the number of residents of any one precinct varies by 5% or more from the total number of Winchester residents divided by eight.
The Town Warrant
Long before the opening session of Town Meeting is called to order, a great deal of careful preparation has been made. The Town Budget has been proposed. The Warrant has been drawn, each article has been considered by the Finance Committee and Selectmen, hearings have been held, and reports issued.
All subject matter to be acted upon by the Town Meeting must be listed in the form of articles in the Town Warrant, a "warning" of the business to be considered. The Selectmen are responsible for composing the Warrant and for its printing and distribution to every residence. Articles are inserted by the Selectmen and by other officials and boards. Any citizen may submit an article by petition signed by ten registered voters. Deadline for petition articles is 45 days prior to the first session. The Town Counsel will assist anyone in the proper preparation of an article for the Warrant.
The presiding officer at Town Meeting is the Moderator, elected for a one year term. The Moderator must tread that fine line which all presiding officers strive to attain: to conduct the Meeting in such a way that the right of the individual to be heard is protected, while at the same time enabling the majority to get action.
It is the duty of the Moderator to make appointments to special and standing committees, including the Town Finance Committee and the Personnel Board. The Moderator, who serves without pay, is also responsible for the swearing of Town Meeting Members.
The Town Clerk
The Town Clerk keeps the minutes of the Meeting and prepares a detailed report of the proceedings for publication in the Town Reports Anyone may attend Town Meeting and everyone is urged to do so. Any resident of voting age may speak after being recognized by the Moderator, but only Town Meeting Members may vote. A non-resident or minor may speak if the Meeting so votes.
On any motion, a voice vote is usually taken first. In cas of doubt, the Moderator calls for a standing vote. If dissatisfied with the Moderator's decision on a voice vote, a Member may rise to request a standing vote. If at least seven Members rise, a standing vote will be taken.
Certain motions involving such questions as zoning changes,, bond issues or land taking require more than a simple majority for passage and must have a counted vote unless the voice vote is unanimous. Motions proposed must be within the scope of the article on the Warrant as printed. Articles are considered in the order in which they are listed unless it is voted to change the order. The Chairman of the Finance Committee states that boards' recommendations on each motion as it is presented, as does the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen. A designated representative of each Town agency attends sessions when pertinent, to provide members with information on certain Warrant articles.
Robert's Rules of Order, Revised is the authority on parliamentary procedures not covered in the Town by-laws. The Moderator's rulings are final. A quorum of 100 Town meeting is required for the transaction of business.
Special Committees and Standing Committees
A Town meeting form of government depends on an interested and informed citizenry, actively participating in government. There are elected boards and committees, and there are appointed boards and committees. The Town Clerk maintains a listing of board openings. Interested citizens are encouraged to apply.
Special committees established by Town Meeting perform many functions. They are set up for such purposes as coping with vandalism, planning public buildings, or the study of special problems such as the adequacy of recreational facilities or the solution of particular public needs by the creation of new government departments.
Usually the vote creating a special committee calls for the appointment by the Moderator of a stated number of members. Frequently there is provision that certain boards having a particular interest in the problem shall be represented.
Special committees are instructed to present reports at subsequent Town Meetings. Efficient management of the community and its desirable future development are directly related to success in securing competent and qualified citizens to serve on these committees. Special Committees must keep minutes of all of their meetings. All committee meetings are public and must be posted at least 48 hours before they are held.
There are two Standing Committees of the Town Meeting--the Committee on Government Regulations and the Committee on Rules.
It is the duty of the Committee on Government Regulations to review and revise the by-laws as needed--every ten years in any case--and to review any proposed changes in the Charter.
The Committee on Rules provides continuing oversight of the conduct, business, and procedures of the Town Meeting, proposing changes as it deems necessary. The Committee of Rules also notifies members of Town Meeting if they have missed more than one half of the meetings during the prior twelve months, if the absences are not justified then it is the option of Town Meeting to vote to replace that member.
Right of Referendum
The right to refer a decision of Town Meeting to all the voters of the Town for acceptance or refusal was included in the act establishing a Limited Town Meeting in 1928, and remains intact in the 1975 Charter. A referendum petition must be signed by not less than 3% of the registered voters and filed in the Selectmen's office within five business days following dissolution of Town Meeting. The Selectmen must then provide for a referendum vote on the disputed decision. The announcement of the referendum must be made within ten days of receipt of the petition and it must take place within 14 days of the announcement. The physical arrangements of an election are the rule and the question is presented in the same language and form in which it was stated when presented to Town Meeting. The vote of Town Meeting will not be reversed in referendum unless 20% of the registered voters cast ballots.
By a two-third vote, the Town Meeting may propose Charter amendments. Such amendments become effective only after approval by a majority of the voters in a referendum, The Town Meeting must consider Charter amendments suggested in writing by the Town Manager, Selectmen, or by petition signed by ten registered voters.
Copies of the Town by-laws and Charter are available at the Town Clerk's office, and are on file in the Public Library.
A GUIDE TO WINCHESTER TOWN MEETING was originally published as a booklet in 1994 by the Winchester League of Women Voters. We have reproduced the text of the booklet in its entirety.