With new tech in play for town meeting voting, Lenox brushes up on rules of order

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LENOX — In a letter distributed to town residents via email, Lee-Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen has described ground rules and provided summaries of key issues before voters at Thursday's special town meeting.

The session, which includes the town's and the county's first use of electronic voting for a local meeting, begins at 7 p.m. in the Duffin Theater of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

The key issues on the five-article warrant deal with short-term vacation rentals on Airbnb and similar sites and with a Historical Commission proposal to delay up to one year the demolition of certain historic houses in the hopes that owners or purchasers can renovate them instead.

Ketchen detailed how registered voters will be handed the electronic voting devices, similar to a TV remote, when they check in, are activated only for Thursday's meeting and are turned in after adjournment. The devices are provided at no cost by Turning Technologies as a trial run for a potential contract to deploy the system.

"Should the use of these devices prove successful, the town may choose to purchase the service at future town meetings," Ketchen said.

He pointed out that Town Moderator John McNinch will continue to use voice votes when practical, but will resort to electronic voting "in instances where voice votes are too close to call."

The early November special town meeting, which has become a tradition in Lenox over the past several years, is called by the Select Board for the first Thursday of the month. For this meeting, the board unanimously sponsored all five articles on the warrant, while the Finance Committee supported the two items dealing with funding.

Among the procedures outlined by Ketchen, based on Robert's Rules of Order and parliamentary law, voters can act on any motion made during the meeting unless it's outside the scope of the article language.

As an example, he described a hypothetical motion to appropriate money to the Lenox Public Schools made under an article that contemplates a zoning bylaw amendment.

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"While perhaps meritorious, it would nonetheless be ruled out of order by the Moderator," he said.

Ketchen also explained that "speakers are required to confine their statements to matters relevant to the motion that is before the voters. Comments that deviate from the specific policy merits or deficiencies of the motion are out of order."

Any voter can challenge a motion or comments considered inappropriate or off topic by raising a "point of order" if the town moderator has not acted, he noted. "The Moderator is subsequently compelled to either confirm the relevance of the motion/comments or make a ruling that the motion/comments are indeed out of order."

The goal of a moderator, Ketchen wrote, is "to conduct proceedings in an impartial yet expeditious manner, allowing a fair hearing for all points of view, while keeping the process moving. As a matter of first principle, the Moderator is charged with keeping order at Town Meeting and, as such, his procedural rulings are final."

The moderator plans to limit speaking time to two minutes per voter wishing to speak on each article. Nonvoters can address the meeting with the approval of at least 10 eligible voters attending the session.

Any proposed amendment must be submitted in writing through a form available at the town clerk's office or downloaded from the town's website, townoflenox.com.

As is typical at town meetings, if a majority deems that enough discussion has taken place on any motion, the debate can be halted by "calling the question," which requires a vote but cannot be debated. If a move to call the question passes, the moderator immediately would call for a vote on the motion that previously was under discussion. If a move to call the question fails, debate and discussion on the motion continue.

Without advocating in favor or against, Ketchen's letter described the five articles on the agenda for Thursday's meeting — two on short-term rentals, one on historic houses demolition and two routine funding items.

The letter was sent to 395 residents who subscribe to the town's email list for news and notifications from Town Hall, according to Town Clerk Kerry Sullivan.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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