This Article Warrants Your Attention

Simply Civics Brookline Town Hall

The Great American Town Meeting is small town government in all its glory.

Brookline has an upcoming Special Town Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 15th. 240 residents are elected to serve as Town Meeting Members (TMMs) to fulfill the town’s legislative duties. Each of the 16 precincts has 15 town meeting members, who are elected through staggered elections. Each year, 5 seats per precinct are up for election.

16 precincts x 15 seats = 240 Town Meeting Members

The Meeting of the Minds

They all convene at least once a year to balance the budget and vote on bylaws. The last Town Meeting was in May. At the Special Town Meeting in November, TMMs will address budget changes, plus take up both zoning and by-law amendments.

At Town Meeting, Members take up the “warrant,” a series of articles proposed by the Board of Selectmen or citizens. If I wanted to, I could propose a warrant. #CivicGoals.

The Life Cycle of a Warrant Article

I tend to think of Town Meeting Members as PhD candidates preparing their dissertations. Hear me out:

First, TMMs conduct a literature review. They see what’s out there in the local policy world, get familiar with the current research landscape, attend meetings, and talk with their neighbors. Then, they come up with an idea that seems to have traction.

They write up a proposal and submit it as a warrant article. They test it against the public through hearings. When it’s a complete and fully-vetted idea, they present their warrant (dissertation) at Town Meeting. Sometimes it’s accepted, and sometimes it’s not. If not, you can try again next year.

It’s no small feat.

But hey, local government is never dull.

Cars vs. Public Transit

Some warrant articles are more pertinent to some neighborhoods than others. I live in the Coolidge Corner SouthSide neighborhood of Brookline, and our Neighborhood Association has been particularly interested in Warrant Article #19. Here’s a summary:

Warrant Article 19 seeks to create a new “Transit Parking Overlay District” (TPOD) in order to reduce the minimum number of off-street parking spaces required for new residential development in areas of Brookline that are within a half-mile radius of an MBTA Green Line station.

Currently, in new residential developments in Brookline, each unit built must have 2 off-street parking spaces. The petitioner argues that if the units are close enough to public transportation, residents won’t necessarily need cars. With this article, developers could build new residential buildings without worrying about building massive underground parking garages.

There are pros and cons to this article, just like there are for others all around town.

If you’re interested in following Article 19 and contributing any comments, there are a few important upcoming hearings/meetings, prior to the Special Town Meeting:

  • The Planning Board on 10/13 (in a public hearing)
  • The Planning and Regulation subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on 10/19 (in a public hearing)
  • The full Advisory Committee on 10/26 (in a public meeting)
  • The Transportation Board (date TBD)

Taxes and Tobacco

There are 34 other warrant articles, covering a wide range of important issues to the town. Here are just a few topics:

  • Tobacco Control Regulations for Reducing Youth Access (4)
  • The Plastic Bag Ban (6)
  • The Emerald Island Special District (7 & 8)
  • Width of sidewalk at 25 Washington Street (11)
  • Electric Vehicle Charging Facilities (16)
  • Hubway Regional Bicycle Share Program (20)
  • Leaf Blowers (23) [a hot issue in Brookline- See the Moderator’s Committee on Leaf Blowers]
  • Online Posting of Police Reports (30)
  • Enhanced Brookline Tax Relief for Senior Homeowners with Modest Incomes (33)

Believe it or not, these warrant articles are the fiber of the local community. The Town Meeting process equips us to grow and adapt as a community.

Join the Conversation

My favorite part about local government is that it’s so easy to participate! You have the potential to affect public policy in your community. That is WILD!

There are many ways to get involved in Brookline’s Town Meeting.

  1. Town Meeting itself is open to the public, so mark your calendar for November 15th.
  2. If you can’t make it to Town Meeting, watch it from home! The kind folks at Brookline Interactive Group will be broadcasting it on Brookline Access Television.
  3. Contact your Town Meeting Members. If you’re a Brookline resident and you’re curious as to who your TMMs are, check out this handy list. Reach out to your TMMs and learn about what they see as the most pressing issues for your neighborhood.
  4. Get informed on the issues. The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance (the umbrella organization for neighborhood associations) typically hosts a warrant article forum. The upcoming forum is scheduled for November 10th at the Pierce School Auditorium.  Refreshments will be at 6:30 and the forum will be from 7:00PM-9:00PM.
  5. Submit comment at a hearing.
  6. Next year, consider submitting a warrant article.
  7. Lastly, you can even run as a Town Meeting Member!

Town Meeting isn’t just a Brookline phenomenon, but it happens to be very vibrant here. Each town runs Town Meeting in its own way, depending on the traditions and by-laws of the community. Cities have their own avenues for policy debate and public participation, too. Contact your City or Town Hall for more information.

As always, reach out to me with any questions.