Column: Town Meeting: Does it work for you? 

December 11, 2023

During a vigorous discussion of the question “Does Town Meeting Work For You?” — co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Concord-Carlisle and the Concord Free Public Library — folks gathered on November 2 in the Goodwin Forum to hear Town Moderator Carmin Reiss and four thoughtful citizens comment on the effectiveness of Town Meeting.  

Reminding us that “deliberation is not only about speaking; it is also about listening,” she ended the evening by urging folks to join — by filling out a card at the Town Hall — a new committee whose charge is to evaluate our present system. 

Many opinions were expressed. Carmin noted that we have — with Open Town Meeting — an “unparalleled opportunity for ordinary voters to directly participate in their government; everyone has the right to speak and to vote.”  

Matt Johnson, our first panelist and a self-confessed “rabble rouser,” admitted he has come to admire our present system: “It is a precious option we have; we can vote for every dollar the town spends.” 

Sue Felshin, our second panelist, admitted that “ours is probably the best option.” Should we change the system, she powerfully argued and warned, “Do not separate deliberation from voting.” Scott Gillis, our third panel member, provided fascinating graphs that revealed several key habits: Concordians (over the past decade) vote at 85%-plus range for presidential elections; at the 70-75% range for state elections; unevenly (but lower) at town elections; and at around 15% for Town Meeting. Clearly, we have an alert polity when it comes to non-local considerations. 

James Cohane, our fourth panel member, confessed that he finds the whole process, as a “newbie,” simply “bizarre and complex.” He provocatively challenged the town to justify the exclusion of many from the voting process. James and his wife need to take turns attending, a pattern that many folks with small children experience. 

Garret Whitney noted that “Americans are alienated from their political system… we need to spend time listening to each other,” while Bob Treitman argued we are exercising “voter suppression” by systemically precluding shift workers, nurses, folks working at Crosby’s, and single parents with children from attending Town Meeting.  

Pointing out that it is no more than two to four evenings each year that our Legislature gathers, Parashar Patel wondered if we were making “a mountain out of a molehill,” as those who do not attend may simply be uninterested. 

The gathering overwhelmingly expressed a preference for our present form of governing. The advice given to all is to participate in the town’s committee system, become informed, and attend Town Meeting. It was noted that the League offers Warrant reviews for each complex article, thereby providing broad public discourse in advance of the Town Meeting. A full viewing of the meeting can be seen by going to

In the end, no system is perfect, but re-examination only helps us to refine or change our system. 

Diane Proctor 

Chair, LWVCC Town Government Committee