The Fall and Rise of Annual Town Meeting

One of the facts that we find particularly compelling and one of the data points that helped us decide to form ACK•Now is the level of engagement citizens have at Annual Town Meeting. 

As you can see, the budget of the town which includes the General Fund, Airport, Our Island Home, Solid Waste Enterprise Fund, Sewer Enterprise Fund, Wannacomet Water and Siasconset Water, has grown by 260% over the past 20 years. (This data does not include capital projects, which would really make for an interesting bar graph…) Why has our budget nearly tripled? The simplest answer is that more people need more services. The year-round, seasonal and visitor populations have grown over the past 20 years and that means more people, more development, more roads, more police, more fire, more trash, more sewer and more of just about every service. 

But even with a dramatic increase in people and dollars spent by the town, the number of folks who attend the Annual Town Meeting has remained relatively flat. Here’s a snapshot of the percentage of registered voters who have attended town meetings at three milestones spanning 20 years. 

In real numbers, this graph represents 707 people in 2000, 510 in 2010 and 777 in 2019. We could speculate all day about the reasons so few attend town meeting  — and there are likely a few different reasons — the sobering fact remains that the people who go to Annual Town Meeting are dwarfed by those who for whatever reason do not attend. Here’s a visual representation: for every adult in the Mary P. Walker Auditorium at any given ATM, there are nine adults on the outside. 

If you are reading this email, and you are a registered voter, it’s highly likely you go to town meeting and engage within the process. If you are a seasonal resident who is not registered to vote here, you are probably plugged into your neighborhood homeowners association or the Civic League. Or maybe you even sit in that sequestered section off to the side at town meeting.

But, we are guessing, you probably know someone who does not go to ATM or (gasp!) has never gone. We all do. So let’s do something about this trend. Here’s a plan.

Make a list of your friends who are passionate about island issues but who don’t attend town meetings and forward them this email. Let them know that this year ATM will be a little different. First, it’s taking place on a Saturday, so people who work Monday through Friday will find it easier to attend. Also, there will be electronic voting which means no one has to endure the discomfort of voting one way or another in front of family, coworkers, and friends. There will also be no drawn-out hand counts — the meeting should move along nicely. 

Also, let them know that if they subscribe to ACK•Now, they will receive emails like this about major issues including information on key articles at town meeting. We will explain a few of the most pivotal articles in clear, jargon-free language and give a considered opinion about why a given measure is either good for the island or not.

Our goal as an organization is to make the warrant relevant and approachable to the voter and to increase participation so the entire island has a stake in the community’s success. We are all in this together, after all. 

Have a great Sunday. 

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