Talk:Town meeting

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Subsection title[edit]

I'm not sure the subsection "Communities still using town meetings" is useful here. All Massachusetts towns, by definition, have Town Meeting. If they don't have Town Meeting, then they're cities, not towns. Note that some Massachusetts cities call themselves "Town", as for example what the General Court calls "the city called the Town of Watertown". 04:55, 29 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Good point - it has grown out of control, hasn't it? Why not write up what you just said into article form, and replace the list of Mass. towns with it? - DavidWBrooks 12:31, 29 Apr 2005 (UTC)

"Town with Council"[edit]

Please provide a citation for this alleged "Town with Council" form that demonstrates these places are actually towns and not cities. 17:23, 1 May 2005 (UTC)

  • Weymouth, for one, which has a Mayor-Town Council form of government, although they also continue to practice Town Meeting. This is their choice, and they could have excluded Town Meeting when writing their charter if they had wanted. Remember, a town remains a town until it chooses to incorporate as a city. The commonwealth may call it the City known as the Town of X, but it remains legally the Town of X until it reincorporates, and standard practice in Massachusetts also dictates that, if the people of Boston were to vote tomorrow that Boston is a town and not a city, a town it is.
That's not my understanding. Municipal governments are entirely creatures of the state; if the laws of the Commonwealth say it is a city, then it is a city, end of discussion. It doesn't matter what the community wants to be called. In particular, if it has a mayor, then it is a city, because that form of government is exclusive to cities. Again, please provide a citation. (I did some of my own research on this issue, and found that in the case of Weymouth, the General Court sometimes says "town of Weymouth" and sometimes says "city known as the town of Weymouth".) Here's what the Constitution says:
Subject to the foregoing requirements, the general court may provide optional plans of city or town organization and government under which an optional plan may be adopted or abandoned by majority vote of the voters of the city or town voting thereon at a city or town election; provided, that no town of fewer than twelve thousand inhabitants may be authorized to adopt a city form of government, and no town of fewer than six thousand inhabitants may be authorized to adopt a form of town government providing for town meeting limited to such inhabitants of the town as may be elected to meet, deliberate, act and vote in the exercise of the corporate powers of the town.
This section shall apply to every city and town whether or not it has adopted a charter pursuant to section three.
This is from the revised version of amendment 2, section 8, contained in the 89th amendment to the Massachusetts constitution. Although it is nowhere spelled out explicitly, it is clear from this passage and others that the Constitution considers there to be a "city form of government" and a "town form of government", with the latter having some form of Town Meeting and the former not required to do so, regardless of what the community, in its charter, may choose to call itself or its governing bodies. By that principle, the Town of Weymouth, like the Town of Watertown, is a city. I will update the article to reflect this. 04:41, 2 May 2005 (UTC)

According to their Charter, Weymouth ( uses a Town Council as their legislative body. Prior to voting on their budget, the Council holds a public hearing (in town meeting style). That is substantively different than a Town Meeting in the legislative sense (where voters, or 240 representatives) vote on the budget.

Ten voters?[edit]

This has got to be a typo:

or by a petition signed by at least ten registered voters of the town.

Shouldn't this be "100 or ten percent of registered voters, whichever is lower"? Thought I'd ask here, just in case I'm wrong :) Bcordes 16:14, May 3, 2005 (UTC)

10 voters for the annual town meeting, 100 voters for the special town meeting. Source: state web site.--AaronS 16:38, 3 May 2005 (UTC)
noted, and fixed in "special town meeting" as well. Bcordes 20:21, May 3, 2005 (UTC)
The petition for a Special Town Meeting requires 200 signatures or 20%, whichever is lower. The quorum is only 100. It's a little weird. Sahasrahla 23:43, May 3, 2005 (UTC)
Checking the Census data, there are only 30 towns with population less than 1000 (for which the alternative would make a difference), mostly in Western Mass. Three towns have fewer than 200 people: Gosnold, Monroe, and Mount Washington. (Gosnold is the smallest, with only 86 inhabitants in the 2000 Census.) 01:13, 4 May 2005 (UTC)

Massachusetts intro city vs. town[edit]

The introductory paragraph for the Massachusetts section is no introduction, and probably should be at the end of the discussion about open and representative town meetings. The article is about town meetings first, and subsidiarily, the finer points of cities and towns in Massachusetts should go last. -- Yellowdesk 05:07, 10 February 2007 (UTC)

The whole point is that towns, and only towns, have Town Meeting. Cities by definition do not. Perhaps it could be worded better. 121a0012 16:20, 10 February 2007 (UTC)

That point is understood. Here is my point, the constitutional quibbling about the cities that call themselves towns is a borderline case, and footnote to the larger discussion about town meeting. Here it's moved to the bottom. Comments invited. -- Yellowdesk 01:19, 12 February 2007 (UTC)


Two forms of Town Meeting government[edit]

File:Freetown Warrant FY2004.gif
A page from the May 3, 2004 Freetown, Mass. annual town meeting warrant.
Open Town Meeting[edit]
Main article: Open Town Meeting

In Massachusettts, towns with fewer than 6,000 residents may only adopt an open town meeting' town charter and form of government. Massachusetts towns with 6,000 or more residents may optionally adopt a representative town meeting form of government.[1] The Board of Selectmen summons the town meeting into existence by issuing the warrant, which is the list of items--known as articles--to be voted on, with descriptions of each article. The Moderator officiates the meeting by reading each article, explaining it, and making sure the rules of parliamentary procedure are followed, interprets voice votes and counts other votes. The Finance Committee or Ways and Means Committee makes recommendations on articles dealing with money, and often drafts the proposed budget. The Town Clerk serves as the clerk of the meeting by recording its results. Town Counsel makes legal recommendations on all articles of the warrant, to ensure town meeting is acting lawfully. All registered voters are free to attend and vote on any and all articles.

Representative Town Meeting[edit]

Massachusetts Towns having at least 6,000 residents may adopt a Representative Town Meeting system through the normal charter-change process. Representative Town Meetings function largely the same as an Open Town Meeting, except that not all registered voters can vote. The townspeople instead elect Town Meeting Members by precinct to represent them and to vote on the issues for them, much like a U.S. Representative votes on behalf of his/her constituents in Congress. Depending on population, a town may have anywhere from 45 to 240 Town Meeting Members. Framingham, the largest town in the state by population, has 216 representatives in Town Meeting, twelve from each precinct.

Annual Town Meetings[edit]

Annual Town Meetings are held in the spring, and may also be known as the Annual Budget Meeting. They are supposed be held between February 1 and May 31, but may be delayed until June 30. (Town fiscal years start on July 1.) At this meeting, the town takes care of any housecleaning it has left before the end of the current fiscal year, and prepares itself to enter the new fiscal year by approving a budget. It may also vote on non-budgetary issues on the warrant, including the town's general and zoning bylaws.

An article may be placed on the warrant by the Selectmen, sometimes at the request of town departments, or by a petition signed by at least ten registered voters of the town.

Special Town Meetings[edit]

Special Town Meetings are held whenever necessary, usually to deal with financial or other pertinent issues that develop between Annual Town Meetings. They function the same as an Annual Town Meeting, only the number of signatures required on a petition rises to 100. While the Selectmen generally call such a meeting, voters may call one through petition, and the number of signatures required on a petition to call a Special Town Meeting is 200 or 20% of the registered voters, whichever number is lower. The Selectmen have 45 days from the date of receiving such a petition to hold a Special Town Meeting.

Joint/Regional Town Meetings[edit]

Joint Town Meetings are an extremely rare form of town meeting. When two or more towns share an operating budget for something, the governing body of that entity will typically issue each town an assessment for its operation. The town then includes its assessment as part of its budget.

If Town Meeting in one town votes to approve its assessment based on the figures provided, and Town Meeting in another town votes a lesser figure than it was assessed, the disagreement becomes problematic. (For example, if X-town and Y-town run a high school together, and the total operating cost of the high school is $4,500,000, and X-town sends 51% of the school's students, X-town would be assessed $2,295,000 and Y-town would be assessed $2,205,000. An issue arises when X-town votes $2,295,000 and Y-town only votes $2,100,000.)

If the issue cannot be resolved, the governing body may call a meeting of all registered voters from all towns involved: a Joint Town Meeting. The action of the Joint Town Meeting is binding for all involved communities. When three or more towns are involved, the name often changes from Joint Town Meeting to Regional Town Meeting.

Towns and Cities in Massachusettts and the the state constitution[edit]

The Massachusetts Constitution (in Amendment LXXXIX, which governs the respective powers of municipalities and the state legislature) makes a distinction between a "city form of government" and a "town form of government". In recent years, a number of communities have chosen to adopt a home-rule charter under this Amendment which specifies a city form of government while keeping the style "Town of X," calling their legislative bodies "Town Council," and so on. (The Constitution does not require any specific nomenclature.) In special legislation, these places are sometimes described as "the city known as the town of X".

The Town Meeting form of government is a mandatory part of being considered a town under state law; cities do not have town meetings. However, as noted, the official style of a city or town is defined in its charter, and there is no legal barrier to cities calling themselves "town" or vice versa. As a result, not all of the municipalities that are called towns have Town Meeting. (Only communities with a population of at least 12,000 may adopt a city form of government.)

Common practice distinguishes between a "town meeting" (with an article), which may refer to any such gathering, even if municipal business is not the subject, and "Town Meeting" (never an article), which always refers to the governing body of a town.

  1. ^ See amendment LXXXIX of the Massachusetts Constitution.

External references for each section?[edit]

This is a bit unusual. While I like the grouping and am hesitant to change it, it isn't standard. Student7 (talk) 13:08, 7 March 2008 (UTC)


The CT portion appears to deserve work -- there are towns (among the 169) that still have the town meeting as the legislative branch of town gov't (what i think is implied here for all towns) but a lot of the larger ones have changed that. The relationship between towns and cities (there are 21 cities) also should be distinguished from the Mass model: every point in the state is within a town, tho most cities are coextensive with the town bearing the same name, and i think those have all "town" responsibilities vested in city officials; exceptional cases (IIRC the only ones) are Winsted, CT (city) with 70% of the population of its town of Winchester, CT, and Groton (city), Connecticut with 25% of the pop of Groton, CT. Altho i have the advantage of a hard copy of a 14-year-old copy of the Blue Book (good for identifying what to update or confirm in the on-line edition), i don't see myself as temperamentally suited to the task. But i suppose no other vol is going to show up, and i'll end up trying to not make a mess of it. For now, i'm dragging my feet.
--Jerzyt 07:24, 19 June 2009 (UTC)

Modern centralised democracy destroying traditional grassroots democracy[edit]

I am reading materials where grassroots democracy in traditional community or village meetings are either being supplanted or sidelined by new power centres due to advent of modern centralised democracy.

It could be possible to collect enough references to materials to create a section on this issue. Although older societies often exist under a central figure of power such as an authoritarian monarch, daily functioning of villages in such societies in the 19th century were through grassroots meetings and community elders.

Hence Jewish Anderstein (talk) 07:19, 4 May 2010 (UTC)

Direct democracy?[edit]

A knowledgeable editor has piped a link to "direct democracy" for this type of government. While town meetings are much closer to grassroots than just about anything else, I'm not at all sure that "direct democracy" really applies. Town meetings tend to set policy. They have agents (elected officers) to carry out this policy. While this is a lot closer than what say I have in Washington DC. it still isn't quite direct. In fact, nowdays, in Vermont, a town is required to have a town manager (or whatever) to carry out the town meetings (or selectmen's) policies. And the selectmen have a lot of wiggle room to exercise their judgment, as well.

I did like the old system 60 years ago in Vermont where the first question was "Shall we tax ourselves and if so, how much?" While this sounded amusing and tempting, no one ever didn't tax themselves! They finally removed it as an item, but do still decide how much per line item for various major expenditures. A lot closer but not really direct democracy IMO. Student7 (talk) 03:16, 21 May 2010 (UTC)

I see what you're saying, but New England town meeting certainly fits in with the definitions and examples in the Direct democracy article. If the fact that people can exercise an initiative petition process is a form of direct democratic rule, so too is the fact that people can come together at Town Meeting to set the budget and bylaws. It's not that all the government is done by direct democracy, but at least the legislative part of it is. If you want to make it clearer in the introduction that the decisions made are then generally carried out by an elected executive branch, I could see that being useful, but I think that Town Meeting fits the definition in the linked-to article, at least. (In the interest of complete disclosure, I'm the Town Moderator for the Charlton, Massachusetts town meeting.) --PeterCooperJr (talk) 11:52, 21 May 2010 (UTC)
I seriously doubt that there has ever been any goverment of any reasonable size where the people directly vote on minutia such as whether the electric bill should be paid this month. To define "direct democracy" in such a narrow manner that hardly any exist, and hardly any have ever existed, does not seem appropriate to me. Jc3s5h (talk) 16:40, 21 May 2010 (UTC)
On a monthly basis, perhaps not, but on a yearly or periodic basis, yes. Take for example the town I live in, where the operating budget has a line for street lights. If Town Meeting amended the line by reducing it from $12,000 to $0, then, the electric bill for the street lights isn't going to get paid, this month or any other. Likewise, if a town were having trouble establishing a budget for the fiscal year, it could conceivably hold a special town meeting each month to pay (or refuse to pay) accumulated bills until it settled on an actual budget. You could also consider the case of unpaid bills from previous fiscal years, which require a super-majority of Town Meeting's approval to pay, no matter how small or routine. Sahasrahla (talk) 07:03, 23 May 2010 (UTC)
Not if you live in New Hampshire - despite the line-by-line discussion common at town meetings, the vote of annual meeting only sets the total amount of money that can be spent by the selectmen/school board, it does not determine how that money can be spent. Under state law, the board can spend the money any way it wishes. Things may be different in other states. - DavidWBrooks (talk) 11:51, 23 May 2010 (UTC)
What I was hoping to expunge was the link to direct democracy. We can explain the process in the text, any way we want since there is fairly good agreement on the broad scope. If not, can we then qualify it in detail? Student7 (talk) 12:23, 23 May 2010 (UTC)

No, the link to direct democracy should stay, especially since that article discusses New England town meeting. Jc3s5h (talk) 13:30, 23 May 2010 (UTC)

Agreed. That's a perfect use of a wikilink; it doesn't require bogging down this article with a side discussion, but makes more information easily available. - DavidWBrooks (talk) 14:48, 23 May 2010 (UTC)

Why the Danville California picture?[edit]

The form of government known as Town Meeting is peculiar to New England. The picture of the "Town Meeting Hall" of Danville, California has no relation to the form of government that is the subject of the article. Indeed, the website for the "Town of Danville" says, "The Town Meeting Hall is the site of monthly Town Council and Commission meetings." I intend to remove the picture unless someone can explain how it adds to the article. Snezzy (talk) 11:31, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

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