Voters at a session of 2024 Town Meeting. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

Town Meeting backs a hard look at… Town Meeting

By Celeste Katz

When Betsy O’Donnell stepped to the mic at last week’s Town Meeting, the mom of two made it clear she’d made a real effort to be there. 

“I’m coming to you after a 10-hour day of work. I have not eaten dinner… I biked to and from work and didn’t have a chance to shower, either. That is how important this meeting is to me,” O’Donnell told fellow voters at the high school. 

In the past, because of professional demands, “I did not attend Town Meeting because it was a choice between my children or supporting my children,” she said. 

“I think this is a very important question that we need to re-evaluate.”

A Town Meeting attendee brought along some knitting for the marathon session. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

Town Meeting voters overwhelmingly agreed to do just that — investigate how the centuries-old form of self-government works, or doesn’t, for current-day Concordians.

While Concord had nearly 14,000 registered voters on the rolls as of the April 9 town election, fewer than 1,200 showed up for the first night of Town Meeting on April 29. 

On Tuesday, 977 voters checked in.

And by the Wednesday installment of the marathon meeting week, that had dwindled to fewer than 500. 


Changing times

Tackling four meeting-focused articles spread over two days, voters agreed to create a study committee to drill down on how Concord’s open, in-person-only Town Meeting functions — the first major examination since the mid-1990s.

All four proposals almost got pushed to Wednesday night’s meeting, but voters — despite their admitted exhaustion — demanded to press on to consider at least the study committee article. 

Town Moderator Carmin Reiss presides at Concord-Carlisle High School. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

Town Moderator Carmin Reiss presented Article 26, which creates a nine-person citizen group to consider issues such as the meeting’s format, location, and participation options, including a look at how other towns operate. 

“It’s been 30 years since we had an in-depth study of [the] process, and there’s sure been a lot of changes in society and technology,” she said. “Just a look at the warrant and the number of citizen petitions [tells] us that we’ve got some issues to discuss.”


After an at times emotional debate, three citizen petitions ended up being referred to the new committee, including: 

  • Article 27, a proposal to bring all matters decided by future Town Meetings to a subsequent special election ballot. 

Sponsor Dinos Gonatas said while the meeting is Concord’s legislative branch of government, its attendance rate is pitiful compared to other legislatures, which also have minimum attendance requirements to even go into session. 

With voting at the polls, he said, “You could have a real democracy with broad support in the community on controversial issues.” 

But Town Counsel Mina Makarious flatly said while Article 27 was “not illegal in the sense that it can never happen, it would require special legislation” from the state to make such a fundamental change to local election law. 

  • Article 28, a proposal authorizing the Select Board to seek state permission to institute hybrid Town Meetings where people could participate and vote either in person or remotely. 

“Using modern technology can, if we [choose] to, make Town Meeting more inclusive, yet it preserves the important need to deliberate,” article presenter Scott Gillis said.  

Gillis added that “Wayland, who has open Town Meeting just like us, [has] petitioned the legislature, as has Lexington, who has representative Town Meeting with only about 200 representatives — yet they still believe there would be benefits in allowing remote participation.”

Residents raise slips to vote in the traditional way. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge
  • Finally, Article 29, presented by voter Mark Martines, sought to institute hand-held electronic Town Meeting voting with “clicker” devices beginning in 2025. 

As a practical matter, Martines said, clickers provide accurate vote counts and speed up Town Meeting, saving not only voters’ time but money on keeping the high school open and town staff on duty late into the night. 

More philosophically, he said, as opposed to the traditional hand-raising, clickers would free meeting attendees of the fear of being judged for voting their consciences on controversial matters. 

“If it’s important to respect others [and] people who have different views than we do, and people who want to vote privately, why would we deny them that if the goal is to be as inclusive and representative as possible?” Martines asked. 

“We are suppressing voting because we’re not allowing people to express who they really are.”


The new study committee will produce a draft report by November 30 and present its full findings at Town Meeting 2025. 

The town is also conducting a survey of voter satisfaction with the current process.

As former state Rep. Cory Atkins noted last Tuesday night, Town Meeting sometimes means tough choices — and that’s before voting even begins. 

“Concord isn’t the only town in this situation. My daughter spent $120 last night on a babysitter to come,” she said.

“The reason why she doesn’t often do that [is] ’cause I’m the babysitter. That means I can’t come.”