A group of 12 gathered at Bobby Byrne’s Restaurant & Pub on Wednesday night for beer and chicken wings were the few patrons not watching the game. Instead, they were talking about Town Meeting.
Facilitated by Devan M. Atanian, an ambassador for the Cape Cod Young Professionals (CCYP) Civic Engagement Committee, the meeting was one of a number planned by the committee to involve young people in local government on Cape Cod.
“Every article on the warrant directly or indirectly affects you,” she said.
Town manager Joyce M. Mason and selectmen Michael R. Richardson, Wayne E. Taylor, John J. Cahalane, and Thomas F. O’Hara were there to explain the nuts and bolts of Town Meeting.
“Town Meeting is an opportunity for folks to participate in what happens in the community and what happens to the tax rate,” Ms. Mason said, explaining that the main focus of the upcoming meeting will be the town’s operating budget. “It’s a good operating budget and I think it’s easy to understand...folks will have the opportunity to address any issue that they feel is important.”
Mr. Cahalane added that everyone involved in town government would like to see “younger blood” attending meetings and elections. When Ms. Atanian suggested that young residents start by joining town committees, he responded, “I think you’ll see that these people [involved in town committees] are more than willing to have young people join.”
However, several selectmen raised the question of how to attract and maintain young residents’ interest.
Mashpee resident John Cotton, the president of the Cape Cod Children’s Museum board of directors, suggested that they display a list of committees and their meeting dates at the upcoming Town Meeting.
“We’ve done that before,” Mr. Cahalane said.
Eventually, there will be links to committee lists for every town on Cape available on the CCYP website, Ms. Atanian said. The group also discussed the possibility of publicizing information through social media, an idea that was supported by several attendees who said they use Facebook frequently.
Ms. Mason and the selectmen echoed a feeling of discouragement over the low number of registered voters attending Town Meetings. Often, Mr. O’Hara said that residents who have not attended will complain about the results of Town Meetings the following week.
According the feedback Ms. Atanian has received from young voters, their lack of attendance stems from not understanding what goes on at Town Meeting. They feel the warrant includes jargon that is not translated into layman’s terms.
Mr. Richardson agreed.
“Even though we sit here and think it’s easy to understand...it’s not that easy and we’ve been doing it for years,” he said.
Ms. Mason broke down a few of the “hot topics” at the upcoming meeting, including Article 14, an amendment to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps for the National Flood Insurance Program; Article 15, an amendment to the bylaws that would allow the town to sell tax-foreclosed properties at public auction; and Article 20, the inclusion of a ballot question in the next election ballot petitioning for the town’s withdrawal from the Cape Cod Commission.
Although there were few questions regarding the warrant, several attendees suggested “dumbing down” the wording of the articles to make them more understandable.
Copies of the Town of Mashpee 2013 Annual Report and a Citizen’s Guide to Town Meeting, published by Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin, were available at the meeting. For additional support, Ms. Atanian said that she will meet new attendees outside Mashpee High School on Monday.
“We want to create a sense of community in each town, and this is the beginning of that,” she said, handing out stickers with a Civic Engagement Committee slogan that reads, “I’m an engager.” Ms. Atanian said she hopes young residents will wear the stickers to Town Meeting and form connections with each other.