10:55 p.m.-12:05 a.m. The Powerpoint from hell

Yeah, I was supposed to jump on this last week, but I didn’t. I was going to jump on this first thing this morning, but I didn’t do it then either.

I’m a complete-ist. I like the Town Meeting minute-to-minute recap because this sausage-making form of government is not only messy, it’s amusing as well. But the last hour of fall Town Meeting was a definite example of How Not To Present and only supports my theory that Powerpoint is the tool of the devil.

So if you’re just tuning in, let’s recap before the recap:

10:55 p.m. And we’re on Article 26, which requests $750,000 for modular classrooms at Grafton Middle School. This will require a debt exclusion, which will add $15.50 to the property tax bill for the average $390,324-valued home in town.

Supt. Joseph Connors notes that while the language of the article says “buy or lease,” leasing really isn’t feasible, since you cannot borrow funds for a lease — and we’re going to need these modulars for a while.

The four classrooms would provide room for 100 students at 25 per classroom and will also add 100 student lockers. It will only ease the space problems the middle school is now having (you could go back in time to the second entry on this blog to see some of them) but will not solve the high school space issue that is now being studied.

The funds will cover the cost of furnishing and adding technology equipment to the classrooms. No new teachers will be hired as a result of the addition — the middle school already has plenty of teachers whose classroom consists only of a cart.

11 p.m. Charlie Bolack offers his endorsement of the new classrooms and notes that today’s modulars can last up to 50 years. (Yesterday’s modulars weren’t that bad either. The “portables” added to my elementary school, in which I spent second grade, are still in use back at Stall Brook Elementary School.)

11:02 p.m. Modulars are approved. Wow, that was quick. A few people — not as large as the Pell Farm crowd — get up to go home.

11:06 p.m. 34-0 Patriots, according to my neighbor’s Blackberry. Are they playing the puppies from the Puppy Bowl?

11:10 p.m. And we have skipped along, approving funding for the modular special election (still no date) and a few transfers. Now we hit the mother of all speedbumps: Article 31, the storm water management bylaw.

I did not get this woman’s name. I believe she’s a member of the Conservation Commission. I am sure a lot of thought and discussion went into this bylaw and presentation, and I can respect that. I can even get behind the issue and say yes, we need to control the adverse effects of post-development stormwater runoff — I’ve seen them firsthand in my incomplete neighborhood. It’s not pretty, it’s not good for the environment and it’s probably not good for the sewers, either.

We are a tired crowd at this point, and a much-shrunken one. We are almost at the point where May Town Meeting had finished. We’re already looking ahead at Article 32, the biomedical research and production bylaw, and wondering how long that debate is going to take.

This is not the point to bust out a 25-minute Powerpoint presentation.

She had a dramatic open — the Oct. 15, 2005 storm. Remember that one? Completely rained out Octoberfest at South Grafton and the newscasters were all standing outside with umbrellas talking earnestly about dams possibly breaking. Then she notes that particular flood situation had little to do with the topic at hand — good God, why bring it up then? — but that other flooding situations bring about runoff, which is evil and wrong and bad for the environment on a number of levels…

… which she goes on to explain at length.

11:15 p.m. My notebook reads “I HATE POWERPOINT.”

11:30 p.m. She stops talking.

11:35 p.m. She resolves a technical issue and STARTS UP WITH THE POWERPOINT AGAIN. My neighbor, who is my ride home (I swapped husbands with a friend down the street), and I debate whether or not we should stick it out or catch up with everything at home.

“She’s probably still going to be talking by the time we get to our TVs,” I say. We opt to stick it out.

11:38 p.m. After all that, a North Street resident asks to amend the bylaw to have it apply to 40,000 square feet, the federal standard, rather than 10,000 square feet. The remaining crowd starts rumbling at this — why does the town want to adopt a tougher standard than the feds?

11:40 p.m. I give up following the argument completely and start writing random stanzas from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in my notebook.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question
Oh do not ask “What is it?”
Let us go an make our visit.

11:45 p.m. I count a little over 100 people in the room and wonder what Town Meeting quorum is.

11:50 p.m. There will be time there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet
There will be time to murder and create
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate
Time for you and time for me
And yet time for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions…

11:53 p.m. The moderator makes a plea to the people watching at home — the camera guy is running out of tape. Could someone please record the proceedings on their DVR?

11:55 p.m. My neighbor mutters “If we keep going on much longer, the kids are going to start coming in for school.”

11:57 p.m. There’s a motion to adjourn for Wednesday night, noting that there are a number of people who have to get up for work at 5 a.m. It’s pointed out that we can’t adjourn in the middle of an article.

MIDNIGHT We vote to passover the article. If this shows up at the next Town Meeting CUT DOWN THE POWERPOINT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

12:02 p.m. Article 32, the Biomedical Research and Production Bylaw, passes without discussion. I feel for poor Tom Keppler, a non-resident who has had to sit through the entire meeting waiting for this one article, only to not be asked any questions.

12:05 p.m. After passing over Articles 33-36, we adjourn for the night.


22 thoughts on “10:55 p.m.-12:05 a.m. The Powerpoint from hell

  1. Jenn, I’ve since caught a replay of the meeting on our local cable access channel, and I just have to say — double kudos to you for your patience in sitting through the whole thing, as well as for reporting it back to us. Just excruciating… if I’d been there in person, when that lady broke out the PowerPoint slides, I think I might have lost my marbles. 🙂

  2. Way.

    It’s too bad, too. I used to love covering TM’s where passersby would literally be dragged in off the street to get a meeting started … and then everyone in charge just crossed their fingers no one asked for a quorum call.

  3. I know! Or the meetings where they would literally bar the doors so the quorum call wouldn’t be forced!

    A town without a quorum. Wow. I never knew such things even existed. I have to get my hands on a Town Charter.

  4. Bellingham has a zero quorum — which begs a question — how can you hold a meeting when there is no one there to vote? But it was a lot more fun when citizens were dragged from the bar at Pete’s to vote!

  5. Thank you for the comment about the crowd leaving after the Pell vote. Another reason why Kay Whynot makes the blood boil (and makes for must reading). I was there at this painful meeting as well and thought many more left after the Pell vote than the modular vote even though Kay made no mention of that, and threw his (obligatory?) barb at the school crowd about leaving.

  6. It wasn’t even close — way more people left after the Pell vote. People were leaving all through the evening but the Pell exodus was the only one that really stopped the meeting for a few minutes.

    And I have to credit Chris for being a trouper and staying for the whole thing. I was faltering midway through the Powerpoint — and worried that I was keeping him out on a work night — but he insisted that we should just stick it out until the bitter end.

    Oh and hi mom!

  7. Just to add more fuel to the fire about the modular classroom, if the middle school is the building that is facing the shortage of space for our kids, and the modulars are the right solution to fix that problem, why is it not the solution to fix the current school. Are my kids that will be going to middle school being treated like second class citizens? why again are we not building on the middle school?

  8. The middle school is the first building that is facing a space crunch because of the wave of kids coming into it over the next few years (my son’s a sixth grader now, so I’m feeling your pain). Technically, they could have addressed it by building a new high school first and moving a grade up from the middle school (this is my analysis), but that would not be done in time to address the fact that there will be 100 more kids in that building over the next few years.

    When the high school situation is addressed, my prediction is we’re going to see a realignment of the schools. High school goes to the new high school, middle school moves to the old high school, middle school becomes an elementary school (it was originally built as one, after all), GES remains as is and possibly either North or South Grafton becomes an early childhood center to allow for the introduction of full-day kindergarten.

    Heh. Wanna talk about adding fuel to the fire? I said FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN.

  9. Grafton has two fundamental educational space problems at the secondary level – one short term (that is addressed by the “bridge” plan and gets us the modulars at GMS) and one long term, bigger problem that is only legitimately addressed by a permanent, long term solution. This solution (to be determined by the outcome of the Feasibility Study) provides new space/renovated space/found space for GHS and frees up the existing building for a re-configured middle school. The current GMS then becomes part of the lower elementary system. At the end of the day, modulars at GMS enhance the space and enable education opportunity.

  10. And another thing…I get that Town Meeting is hard to sit through – it’s also hard to prepare for. Most of the Boards, Departments, and Commissions have spent months preparing the materials TM evaluates and passes judgment on in a matter of minutes. Meetings, public hearings, posted minutes, draft by-laws – all are circulating and available for the public to consider and challenge over the months leading up to TM. And then, just because a presentation is too long, or gets too complicated – the pass over steps in and grants relief (non-criminal disposition and storm water). Open TM is a long, exhaustive process that by it’s nature gives rise and opportunity to a variety of perspectives. It is time to move toward representative TM and put people in the seats who want to be there – are committed to understanding the process – and have taken the time to become educated about the issues before them. Then will we see thoughtful, well-considered decisions.

    Having said all that, the management of the meeting needs work. I’m going to see if we can establish a process for evaluating presentations at TM so that the information presented is relevant, appropriate and simple. We’ll see if we can get something together for the Spring. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

  11. I’m quite aware of that, which is why I stated it up top at 11:10 p.m. (Do you have any idea how many municipal board meetings I’ve covered in my lifetime?) It’s long, it’s tedious and that’s why, when it gets to TM floor, it should be kink-free and the answers should be available before the question is even asked (although clearly no one could have anticipated the hunting addition to Pell Farm).

    Representative TM is a good move, in theory… but, clearly, you’ve never attended a Framingham Town Meeting if you think that’s going to bring thoughtfulness to the discussion!

  12. It seems to me that the time to go to a representative town meeting is when you have too many people who want to take part in the process, not a lack of people. We’ve got what, 10,000 registered voters and if 400 people show up, our jaws drop!

    With 10,000 voters, we’d probably want, what, a couple hundred elected meeting members? Can you even get that many? How many vacancies are there on existing town committees?

    The problem with the most recent town meeting–and one of the reasons the 11 o’clock hour was so painful–was that work that could have been done during countless meetings and hearings in the weeks leading up to the meeting was done that night. I sincerely appreciate that the moderator takes his role as facilitator seriously and wants to help people take their ideas and notions and yet-to-mature-into-something-that-can-be-articulated thoughts and turn them into actionable motions. Not everyone is a parliamentarian, after all.

    But that goal has to be balanced against the greater good of keeping the meeting moving forward.

    People need to be reminded (constantly, apparently) that Town Meeting is the very tip of the narrow end of a huge funnel into which ideas and problems are put throughout the year and then move through layer after layer of process–all of it open to the public, all of it duly noticed in print and on the Web, and all of it designed to allow for improvement of those ideas being they are brought before the town meeting.

    If people have ideas for improving articles, they ought to speak up long before a motion is made. And for the love of all that is holy, they really ought to be strenuously discouraged from ever making amendments to amendments.

    I wonder whether Donna’s PPTs wouldn’t have seemed so onerous at 9:00–the time they would have gotten underway if all the procedural nonsense that added nothing of value to the evening were eliminated.

  13. Can I just say I love this conversation? Because this is a similar argument to the one I was having with Chris at the bus stop months and months ago, which resulted in me taking a camera to the high school and middle school tours, so I will say the same thing I said then:

    No one is paying attention because no one knows what is going on. We get indifferent coverage from the Telegram (note that this is not a slam against the reporters, who do good work when they are sent here — but Grafton doesn’t appear to be anyone’s beat) and, while everyone reads the weekly, it’s very dry. Why would anyone get involved if they don’t know that something that might affect them is under consideration?

    I mean, just look at some of the comments I get. “Can I go to the Selectmen’s meeting?” Well, of course! “Can I speak at the public hearing?” Yes, that’s what it’s for!

    Before I started blogging, I probably could have told you the names of most of the town officials in Milford, Franklin, Bellingham, Marlborough and Framingham and maybe one or two officials in Grafton because I remembered their lawn signs. I wasn’t paying attention. I could say that I spent so much time at work worrying about the ins and outs of the towns that we cover that I didn’t have time to worry about the town in which I actually live. But frankly, it was more sheer laziness on my part and shame on me — I was raised better than that!

  14. Its such a careful balance. For about 90% of the TM experience (the first 10% was fine) I was having an internal wrestling match with myself…on one hand, I wanted folks to step up and participate, but on the other, I wanted folks to plug it up. That all said, TM is predicated on volunteerism (I include the Selectmen and their 1,000 stipend in that category), so you get what you pay for. But I would also say that it creates effective municipal policy for the most part (along with sleepy citizens)…and I can’t see another palatable alternative.

  15. I agree with you 100 % Jenn.

    Which is why I think the moderator needs to use the bully pulpit, along with his discretionary powers to rule things out of order, to drive the point home that the entire town government–not just 2x a year, but every single day–is open to their input and involvement.

    The relative apathy is actually good news–any voice that gets raised can be heard loud and clear.

    So, think we can convince Mary Ann to float us the cash to start a newspaper?

  16. Who needs paper? I just need a proper CMS (I love WordPress, but the free version I’m using now has some limits) and someone savvy enough to sell local businesses on the logic of Web ads. 🙂

  17. A couple of issues should improve over time or could use improving:
    1) Our Moderator is still learning on the go. At least this past time he didn’t have the additional burden of responding to our previous Moderator.
    2) I know a lot of time goes into the warrant but it can still be improved. Don’t fight the masses all the time.
    3) Seek more input on open committee vacancies. People are motivated at TM – capitalize on this.
    4) Limit the comments along the lines of Selectman Lemay’s, where it seems every meeting he reaches a boiling point of how people could have had imput previously. The easiest way to delay things is to put people on notice (unfortunately).

    And a comment on representative town meeting – since it seems half of the meeting attendees live on Brigham Hill Road (or North or South St) we’ll end up wondering why we can’t find anyone to run for meeting member.

  18. Town meeting, the worst form of government, the best form of government, however a true democracy. To get something passed at TM you have to take into account all the people that show up and potentially could show up. The people presenting are supposed to represent the people of the Grafton. Just because a small group of people have an idea that they think is worthwhile doesn’t mean the rest of the town will agree with it.
    If the process is flawed, passing over, don’t blame the people, change the process! They are working with the system as it exist.
    Major items like some of the ones presented need to be presented in the community earlier than what they have been. You need to sell it at the grass roots level. Not a PowerPoint where you are asking people to make a major decision, seeing it once and possibly having questions about how it works. People will not vote in favor but keep what they do or do not have.
    In terms of the school issues the School Building Committees meetings are posted and years of work have gone into where we are now. We encourage people to come to the meetings or ask questions, happy to answer them.

  19. Although Mr. McCarthy’s comments are interesting, “form of government”, I question why he started with such a negative first “worst form” rather than “best form”? I know people from other countries and they all envy our process that the people make the policy and not the few.
    I do agree with McCarthy’s statement that process can are most likely flawed along the way. And the “power point presentation”, can anyone or does anyone know if the Conservation Commission is reading this blog? I truly hope so. Mr. McCarthy please consider getting on the conservation commission and running it like you have been doing with School Building. La bienvenida al Sr revolucionario McCarthy.
    Random note, does anyone think that Carlos Tevez is going to work well with Cristiano Renaldo at Man U?

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