Friday, June 23, 2006

Wrapping up - Random Bits

Short shrift: I’m curious about the effect the ordering of the articles has on the voting. That which comes later in the meeting – or later in the evening – can’t possibly get the same thorough consideration as early stuff – we’ve burnt ourselves out. And some people end up leaving during each session so there aren’t even as many folks left to consider and vote on some issues. And as others have pointed out, having revenue-generating articles follow budget articles might yield very different results than the opposite order.

New view: Try sitting in different places once in a while. It is amazing how different the chatter is, and that can be really eye-opening. And sometimes it can drive you nuts.

Being vocal: Some folks have the most wonderful voices and speaking styles that I could listen to them all day, regardless of whether or not I agree with what they’re saying. On my list are: Isaac BenEzra, Elaine Brighty, Hwei-Ling Greeney, Alan Root and Eva Schiffer.

TM trivia: Guess how many pairs/groups of people we have in TM who share the same address. In other words, how many couples/roommates, etc. serve on TM together? I am including Ex-Officio members. (The answer is below.)

Shades of gray: A friend and I often voted quite differently. In talking about some of those issues, I found we really were in almost full agreement about them, but some small element of the issue itself or the motion dealing with it caused us to vote opposite. Perhaps there is often greater underlying agreement than the voting results would suggest.

Insights and incites: There is a wealth of information to be gleaned from the various e-mail listservs. A couple are specific to TM topics, others to the schools and Amherst in general. All are great resources for asking questions, getting informed answers – often from very different view points, and for being exposed to information and ideas not otherwise accessible. As an added bonus, you sometimes get to witness shockingly personal battles being waged “in public.”

Duly noted: Among the problems with the TM articles that seek to “advise the legislature,” or whomever, is that they are so obvious. This is Amherst. We conform to our stereotype pretty well. The folks in Boston know how our town would weigh in on issues related to war, social justice, alternative anything, etc. We don’t need to “let the record show ...” The record is clear. If we really want to be heard, we ought to save our advisory articles for issues on which our position would be unexpected.

TM trivia answer: 31. That’s 31 households which have more that one member in TM, comprising 63 TM members. That’s a higher number than I expected. You don’t really notice it as you look through various lists, partly due to differing last names.

Humor me: With Spring TM over, other members might now be able to spend a little time considering starting their own blogs before Fall TM. It is simple and free, and it would be so great if we could link a bunch of them together for a really full examination of the issues from different perspectives. Yours wouldn't have to be the same format as mine – you don’t need to recap everything unless you want to. Maybe you would just want to list your opinions or your votes. Maybe occasionally you would want to really spout off about something. Who knows? There are so many possibilities. At least see how the process works. Go to It will walk you through 3 simple steps – creating an account (no credit cards, no addresses, nothing like that,) naming your blog, and choosing a template. Voila – you have a blog! Try one just as an experiment. If you don’t like it, you always have the option to delete the entire thing, or just leave it there and ignore it – no one will even know. Then you could try again and make another. Play around with it. It is so easy and you have nothing to lose.

That’s all she wrote: So I think I’ve said everything I have to say about this TM season. As I mentioned in the post about the final session, if other issues related to TM come up before Fall TM, I will probably add my two-cents here. Will I weigh in on other issues also? I don’t really know. You might check back occasionally, just in case. (Also – do check to see if people have added new comments.) Otherwise, enjoy the summer and again, many thanks!

And there are several more wrap-up posts below this one, so don't miss those.


Richard Morse said...

Dear Stephanie,

Re: Some Random Bits of My Own:

So the next interesting question after identifying the Town Meeting cohabitants is to ask how many times did they split their votes on tallies?

I plead guilty as one of the people whose mumbling, grumbling, and muttering this spring must have driven you nuts.

Since you are now a person duly authorized to think about Town Meeting and its improvement, I would ask you to consider how vacancies are filled during the year. This process went on this spring, and I believe that it is too ad hoc and insufficiently public. A handful of members have mastered how to use it to their political advantage. Some reform is in order, I think.

As a town meeting member, I have been struggling with the sticky problem of Amherst TM resolutions to go to the legislature or wherever. I have been abstaining on these, which I think is probably not an effective stategy.

I respect the fact, however, that there is a well-established tradition in New England, if not elsewhere, of petitioning from cities and towns to legislators on various state and national issues. My current principle is to vote yes or no only on those resolutions that are part of a greater movement involving other cities and towns.

Because of the stereotype you mention, I don't think that Amherst sounding off on its own is effective or worthwhile to anybody. But I would refer you to Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears a Who" for more insight on this topic.

Richard Morse said...

Re: My Favorite Speaker

Hands down it's Lew Mainzer. I don't always agree, but his analysis is invariably provocative and insightful and the delivery is always graceful. He has the finest tenor voice in the body. Like a tree frog interrupting its song, I stop my incessant mumbling, grumbling, and muttering to listen when he reaches the podium.

Eva Schiffer said...

For the record: I love your blog and/but do not plan to start one of my own. Why should people be encouraged to do so? How much more time should we all be spending on these virtual conversations, no matter how delightful and instructive? There's still a real world out there, even though it's raining outside and nice and dry inside!

As for the TM members who never even attended one session: I can't imagine a defensible excuse other than personal or family illness. Someone planning to be out of town all spring should resign, so that the vacancy can be filled by someone else. There's always the option to run again next spring.

It's not a long list. Would those of you who know any of them be willing to call and find out what happened? And what their plans are for the fall? And make the above suggestions?

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

Rich – Regarding cohabitants splitting their votes: Of all the instances where both members were present and voting (hence, not counting an absence by one as a vote split,) there were 220 instances of cohabitants voting the same, and 28 instances of cohabitants voting differently.

Regarding chatter: Oops – did I shush you? I am a reflexive shusher. Sorry about that. But when I mentioned different chatter driving one nuts, I actually meant that during certain contentious issues, if you’re sitting among people whose views are opposite your own, it can really raise your blood pressure. Sometimes it is enlightening, but other times, you want to scream. Or maybe that’s just me.

Eva – Regarding why people should consider blogs: This is an excellent medium for providing information. My primary reason for starting this was to let people in my precinct know how and why I voted on the issues – the lack of accountability and transparency of TM has always been one of its big negatives for me. To me, that is reason enough. But there are many reasons. Consider the e-mail listservs. They spread info also, but have several drawbacks – A) They are not open to the public, so the people we were elected to represent aren’t aware of the info and discussion occurring there and have no ability to weigh-in. B) They are kind of clunky – following discussion threads can be a mess. C) Some people complain about all the e-mails clogging up their inboxes. D) Unless one vigilantly saves and categorizes the mail by topic, it is difficult to find the info you want later. As an example, there is an interesting discussion going on on the Yahoo list now about genetically engineered foods, which may well be a TM topic again in the future. If the folks on both sides of that issue had blogs where they explained their views and posted links to relevant articles and web sites, they would be creating valuable information resources available to all TM members and the public, and they would be accessible when we want or need them. Very valuable. And there are plenty of folks on committees and boards who could make important info available in a similarly accessible manner.

Blogs and on-line discussion need not take the place of live discussion, but can definitely augment it in valuable ways.