Town Meeting Time– the go-to guide for Town Meeting – states that, “[i]n King James’s day debate may have been properly classified in the same category with murder, but murder is now virtually nonexistent in town meetings, and other forms of violence are rare.” Well, we should certainly hope so! However, in case things get a bit out of hand this Town Meeting season, we take this time to remind Town Meeting Moderators that you control decorum during a Town Meeting (and that the police are always nearby to help).
No person may address Town Meeting without leave of the Moderator. The speaker should address themselves not to the meeting or to any particular member but to the Moderator and state his or her name and the precinct or street he or she lives on. No person should indulge in personalities and the Moderator may forbid any speaker to mention any person present by name or to address anyone in the second person.
Moderators are also reminded that no person should be permitted to speak at length unless a motion is pending. No one is to use indecent language. No person can interrupt another except for a point of order or question of privilege. Additionally, “[w]hen an array of gentlemen [or gentlewomen] rise at the same moment, and vociferate in concert, it becomes the instant duty of the presiding officer to quell this gale.” Town Meeting Time suggests vigorous rapping with a hammer to quiet the group, but we trust that each Moderator will find what works best in each individual circumstance.
It is also worth noting that the Moderator is not without power to remove a disorderly person. If a person addresses Town Meeting without leave of the Moderator or refuses to be silent at the request of the Moderator, the Moderator should give the individual a warning. If, after the warning, the disorderly behavior persists, the Moderator may order a constable or any other person to remove the individual.
Moderators are the unsung heroes of New England municipal governance. Town Meeting is the heart of our democracy and Moderators play a significant and important role in ensuring that all voices are heard and responded to respectfully.