Arlington Select Board meeting made a mockery of what it means to have an open, transparent and democratic town government
Letter to the Editor
April 2, 2020
On Monday, March 30, the Arlington Select Board voted to delay town elections until June 6 but left undecided all the details that will need to be in place to make sure the process is truly a democratic one for candidates and voters.
The Board decided on the date for the election but left everything else up in the air including questions about absentee ballots, early voting, in-person voting, poll staffing, availability of printed ballots, and just how all registered voters will be informed about and be able to participate in the process.
Despite these questions, Chair Diane Mahon chose to adjourn the meeting after only 45-minutes and to reject several attempts by online attendees to make simple inquiries. Even a ten-minute question period could have allayed citizen concerns and confusion. But such is the sad state of Arlington open government in a time of pandemic.
In a striking back and forth, Board members discussed the need for early voting. But Acting Town Clerk Janice Weber responded that she had not been informed of such a need and doubted her department had the ability to mount such a major effort with nearly zero staff and little time. The question of whether absentee ballots could be used in place of early voting ballots was left unanswered.
In another striking exchange, Chair Mahon’s decision to reject public questions at a time of pandemic, when so much about the election remained unclear, was a missed opportunity to include voters into what is a very opaque process. And given how much remains to be decided to make these elections conform to democratic norms, the Board’s decision to not meet for an entire month leaves one wondering if we are witnessing a June 6 train wreck in the making.
Following the meeting, Select Board member Dan Dunn responded to my email and explained why no questions were allowed. “The board is elected to do the business of the town, and having full public participation in each issue is impractical,” he said. But choosing the election date was the only real business on the agenda…a very low bar for what it means to “do the business of the town.” And if, after only 45-minutes, public participation by voters is considered “impractical” at a time of great uncertainty and anxiety, then perhaps we all need to revisit the Select Board’s remit and responsibility to voters.
Monday night’s Arlington Select Board meeting made a mockery of what it means to have an open, transparent and democratic Town government. The Board could, however, go a long way toward assuaging the bitterness and disappointment it generated Monday night by agreeing to make Citizens Open Forum an agenda item at every single Select Board meeting going forward. At this time, under these circumstances, the Select Board simply cannot conduct business as usual. They must let us all—residents and voters—into the process.
Arlington Town Meeting Member, pct. 21