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Is Billerica's Representative Town Meeting still relevant
But are residents ready to see something comparable to a council with a strong mayor?
Rosa pointed out that four of the five selectmen in 2012 voted for the Town Center project, while the residents struck that project down.
Selectmen Chairman Mike Rosa also said he has always supported the Town Meeting style of government and will continue to support it. A smaller group of people making all the decisions in town doesn't necessarily translate to a better representation of the voting public, he said.
"Maybe we don't transition, but we still need to ask the hard questions," he said. "Is Town Meeting the tool to use going forward to get where we want to be for Billerica's future?
Stronger interaction with residents is critical for Town Meeting members, getting a better perspective from residents and leading to a better representation of the town, according to Precinct 2 Town Meeting member John Kleschinsky. He said that Town Meeting members are not doing enough to reach out to voters.
Simolaris said he would love to see Town Meeting work effectively but it's not right now, he emphasized. Between the members not representing the town and more complex issues to vote on, Simolaris said something needs to change.
added. "We may need to transition to a form of government that meets changing environments more quickly than reviewing issues every six months. We need more ongoing attention to everything all the time."
But getting rid of Town Meeting is a concept more than anything else at this point, according to Selectman Dan Burns. He doesn't expect the charter review committee to come back with a recommended change, but he looks forward to hearing what the members say.
As spring Town Meeting approaches for another round of fun beginning Tuesday, some are wondering how much longer the Representative Town Meeting form of government will remain in Billerica.
I don't know if Billerica is ready to say it's no longer a town," Burns said. "Town Meeting gives a wider voice of the town, and a council has less people making decisions, which could become a much more politically volatile environment."
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However, Simolaris said he's hopeful that "brave people" will come forward and more residents will get involved. The past two selectmen elections, when three new members were elected, has caused him to think that change can happen, resulting in a better representation of the residents.
"We need to figure out what's the most effective way to get things done in town," Deslaurier said. "We're a town that's changed dramatically, getting much bigger with a bigger budget and large departments.
Given the complexity of issues and a drop in attendance at Town Meeting, Billerica deserves an analysis of how it's run, Deslaurier said.
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"Town Meeting is not the voice of the people. The elected members are just not a good slice of the pie in town," Billerica Selectman George Simolaris, who led the charge against the project, said last week.
The one on one interactions are essential, he said.
"I certainly hope Town Meeting is not changed," Rosa said.
"We need a better slice of economic strata and viewpoints. A lot of people who can afford higher taxes and higher borrowing are Town Meeting members," Simolaris said. "And the establishment of government doesn't make it easy to understand for the average person.
At least Selectman Andrew Deslaurier said last week that Town Meeting is probably not a realistic solution for much longer in Billerica.
"What happens is members can feel intimidated to vote against the status quo," he added. "It's hard to go up and ask questions if they don't understand something."
Deslaurier, along with fellow selectmen, said they support a charter review evaluation of Town Meeting. Next year the town moderator will appoint a charter review committee, which would then bring recommendations to Town Meeting.
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In 11 precincts, there are currently 216 elected Town Meeting members out of a 241 maximum. In past years, there have been sessions when only about 140 members showed up to vote. The attendance has been dropping precipitously, not even close to the 241 maximum, Deslaurier said.
"Everyone wants to see it succeed, and we just need to help everyone understand how individual articles move us forward," Kleschinsky said. "A lot of votes I've taken have been based on conversations with residents and the concerns they have. Engaging with residents goes a long way."
"Some people say we should keep it because it's the way we've always done it, but that's a terrible reason to do anything," Deslaurier added.
and voters don't get more involved and make a commitment, then yes, we should have a council with a strong mayor," Simolaris said.
"Town Meeting is an island, and residents are the continent. Right now the island is running the continent, and we need to start scrutinizing how that's working," he added.
"There's not as much participation as I would like to see, but my hope and expectation is that as government becomes more inclusive and transparent, then it will attract more and more people to get involved," he said.
Because there's a lack of participation from members and Billerica is a large town to manage, Selectman John Piscatelli said it appears there could be "sufficient cause" for a charter review.
"It will be interesting to see what the findings of the review are. If nothing else, it will affirm we're doing the right thing or there are areas we can do better," Piscatelli added.
BILLERICA After residents crushed a $14 million proposal to reinvent the town center, obliterating the Town Meeting approved project by more than 7,500 votes, some pointed out how disconnected Town Meeting was with residents at large.
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