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Deliberative Session Primer

January 19, 2011

The Timberlane Regional School District Deliberative Session is scheduled for Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 7:00 PM at the Performing Arts Center, 40 Greenough Road, Plaistow, NH.  Most of the people who attend the meeting will be agents of the school district.  Superintendent La Salle will be joined by his School Board, his Budget Committee, his Legal Counsel, and his employees.  But this meeting isn’t for them.  It’s for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, few of the rest of us will attend and even fewer will have any idea what is going on.  If you are thinking about attending your deliberative session, watch last year’s deliberative session, read the Technical Assistance for SB2, and look over some of what I’ve posted here (especially TRSD Public Hearing: Warrant Articles, Understanding La Salle’s Default Budget, and The Right Number: $60,206,506).  If, after digesting all of this, you want to participate in the deliberative process, take a look at the notes that follow.In 1995 New Hampshire Senate Bill #2 created a new two session form of town meeting.  The first session (deliberative session) is for explanation, discussion, debate and amendments to the proposed operating budget and warrant articles.  The second session (voting session) allows voters to cast their votes for local elections, zoning articles and all warrant articles.  Our communities adopted this form of town meeting.

What happens at a Deliberative Session?  Upon entering the PAC, you’ll want to locate your supervisor of the checklist to obtain a voter card.  You need a voter card to speak and cast a ballot.  You should also collect a copy of the warrant articles.  Last year, these were in short supply, so you may want to print out a copy to carry into the meeting.  After the moderator introduces himself and the members of the school board and budget committee, he explains the meeting process and rules.

Generally, people not allowed to vote are not allowed to speak, so the first order of business is a vote to allow non-voting agents of the school district to speak.  Personally, I do not think nonvoters should be allowed to speak.  If only the school board and budget committee were allowed to present the warrants, it would be obvious that they have no role in the preparation of the budget and warrants.

Last year, after this voice vote, the moderator informed the audience that all votes would be voice votes unless he received a petition, in advance, in writing, from five voting participants to use a secret ballot.  It’s important to bring this petition with you and submit it at the very beginning of the meeting because ‘in advance’ means whatever the moderator wants it to mean.  All votes should be via secret ballot.  While non-voters are segregated from voters, no effort is made to supress their participation.  Ballot vote is the only way to assure only eligible voters cast a vote.  So, print out a petition to require a ballot vote on each article and any motion to allow nonvoters to speak, get four other voters to sign the petition before the meeting convenes, and hand the petitions to the moderator at the beginning of the meeting.  You should be able to do this during the meeting, but the moderator runs the meeting and is an agent of the administration not the community.  For your convenience, I have posted a template for a petition to require a ballot vote.  Simply write ‘Article 2’ or ‘all votes’ in the space provided.

What can you do? Any voter can submit an amendment to any warrant.  The amendment must be submitted in writing to the moderator and signed by the petitioner.  For budget matters, it is best to change only the amount of the warrant so that the wording is not later determined to be unlawful and the vote nullified.  If you plan to submit an amendment, put it in writing before the meeting.  Do not explain your proposal in the petition as you risk presenting illegal wording.  The process allows for discussion of any warrants and amendments.  For your convenience, I have posted templates to amend articles 2, 3, and 4 as well as a blank template.

Once an amendment has been voted upon, you can make a motion to restrict consideration of the warrant.  This prevents others from amending your approved amendment once people start to leave.

You can also ‘doubt’ the moderator’s interpretation of a voice count.  After the moderator announces a vote outcome, simply stand and announce that you doubt the result and the moderator will be compelled to conduct a more scientific count (show of hands or ballot).

The Ten Percent Rule (RSAs 32:5.V(b), 32:18) says that no warrant can increase the proposed budget by more than 10%, but there is no limit on the amount the budget can be reduced.

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