Interviewed May 16, 2000
(A 1988 tape and transcript records his service to Concord as Town Counsel, Selectman, and Planning Board member.)
The basic unit of local government in New England is the town. Town Meetings bring liberty within the people's reaching, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A society is safer and freer when the bulk of its citizens understand the programs and goals that their government has chosen and that these have been honestly debated in public.
I have divided my comments into three categories -- the appointment of the Finance Committee, which is the role of the Town Moderator, facilitating the Town Meeting process, and presiding at the Town Meeting. I'll start with the role of Town Moderator in selecting a Finance Committee. The Finance Committee is 15 citizens or voters of the town, and they are required by law to make recommendations to the Town Meeting on all financial matters which come before the meeting. In addition to that, they think about things like free cash and how close the budget is getting to the Proposition 2 Â½ levy limit and matters of that kind. It's a very responsible committee although all they do is make recommendations. In practice in Concord, the recommendations of the Finance Committee are almost without exception followed right to the letter. The Town Meeting occasionally debates small items. In the large items and the town budget, the Finance Committee is really the committee that sets the spending agenda for the town. They have to talk with and negotiate with the School Committee and the Regional School Committee to arrive at budget guidelines to make the whole budget package come out right. They are a very responsible board, and it is not an easy job by a long shot. There are 15 people on the board, five people serving rotating terms of three years each. Usually each member serves two consecutive three-year terms for a total of six. That's because very often the person on the committee needs a year or two to get his or her stride and find out what's going on.
The idea behind the Moderator making the appointment is that it presumably puts the Finance Committee in a role which is independent of the Selectmen or the Town Manager or the School Committee. The Town Manager prepares the town budget and gives it to the Selectmen. The School Committee prepares a budget and provides that to the Selectmen, and the Regional District School Committee prepares a budget, and we also have an allocated amount from the regional vocation technical school. So all those items go into the total final tax burden to be raised from the tax levy.
In selecting candidates you try as hard as you can to make the committee representative of the community in terms of geographical distribution, gender, and age. We don't want everybody coming from the high rent district in the town, so you try very hard to get a reasonable profile, so to speak, of the town. These are the people who are going to set the spending agenda, and if they are to have respect and credibility, that profile is a necessary part of their makeup. Finding the people to do the job is not an easy one. As I've often said, it's the least visible part of the Moderator's responsibilities, but I think it is the most difficult and probably the most important. The Moderator alone is making these appointments. I suppose if people thought they were really, really bad, they could elect themselves a new Moderator. That's never happened in Concord to my knowledge. But it is a difficult and somewhat consuming process to find the people. You go up to the Town House and look at the "green cards" of people who are willing to put in some time on town committees, and you are really delighted if someone comes up with a "green card" saying they are interested in the Finance Committee. Although when I see one of those, I'm apt to call the person up and say this is a matter of your sanity, do you really mean this? You go through the "green cards," you talk to people, you pick up threads here and there of people who might be interested, and you get on the phone and try to do the recruiting process.
I always want to interview people in person before I make the appointment. I think that is important both for the person and for me that I sit down with them and try to see a little bit about what makes them tick. In no sense do I ask them for their views. Their job is going to be making difficult public policy decisions about town spending. They do not have to do the heavy lifting as far as number crunching is concerned and that kind of technical matter. That kind of technical support comes from the office of the Finance Director, Anthony Logalbo, who is for my money far and away the best fiscal Finance Director in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We're very, very lucky to have Tony Logalbo. He and his office do the technical support for the Finance Committee and for the Town Manager in preparing the budget. So the Finance Committee is really making public policy recommendations on what shall be our spending guidelines, shall we go up 2% or 3% or 4%? And, if the School Committee wants to go up 6%, and our guideline is 5, how are we going to cut the town back to 4. So we average it out. Public education consumes about 2/3 of the money we raise through taxes so that's a big piece of the total package. In summary, it is the most important, and in many respects, the most difficult, but the least visible part of the Moderator's responsibilities.
We go to the second area of responsibility, which we identified as facilitating the Town Meeting process. That covers everything until the Town Meeting actually starts or the gavel comes down. So it involves things like trying to improve the Town Meeting process technically, trying to help voters and citizens who are drafting Town Meeting warrant articles and motions, working with the technical parts of Town Meeting like the tellers who count votes and the ballot counters who count ballots when we have a written ballot, working with the Town Clerk in preparation of our ballots, and working with the Town Meeting coordinator in the Selectmen's and Town Manager's office who is Laurel Landry. She also is a treasure. The process of facilitation, so to speak, starts around the first of the year when the budget first comes out and the Selectmen start drafting the warrant for the annual Town Meeting. Any ten voters can petition to have an article inserted in the warrant. When they do, the Selectmen are required by law to insert that article in the warrant and then to allow it to be brought up before the Town Meeting.
Fairly frequently the Moderator is called upon by people who would like to put an article in the warrant but they're not quite sure how to go about it or what to say. The Moderator at least in my experience needs to be sure that people understand that he is available to help them without any ax to grind one way or another after the final outcome of the particular matter.
Then there is helping people draft a motion for the Town Meeting because the motion doesn't have to be the same as the warrant. The warrant simply tells what the general subject is going to be about. The motion gives the detail of the matter, which the meeting is going to vote up or down. The Moderator helps people draft a motion which will come as close as possible to getting done what they would like to have done. Sometimes that involves acquainting them with the basic politics, which isn't exactly the right word, but the way the Town Meeting works. Town Meeting is not a political body. It is a legislative body, and it's totally nonpartisan. But people have to understand that they are trying to persuade a legislative body and they can't always get everything they would like. They need to see where they are most likely to get most of what they want. So helping to draft motions that make sense and helping to make people understand the effective time limits on debate in the Town Meeting and making them understand that more is not necessarily better, and usually not better in the Concord Town Meeting. The Concord Town Meeting in its corporate sense is a very well prepared and highly intelligent legislative body as far as I'm concerned. They pretty much know how they are going to vote on things when they get there or they know it pretty darn quick after they've heard a little bit of debate. The number of people whose minds are going to be changed is a lot smaller than most people think.
Surprising things can happen in this process. A few years ago I worked very hard with a citizen who was very anxious to see that an appropriation to spend money on new roofs for schools was not going to be spent on roofing material having PVC or polyvinyl chlorides. These were dangerous if they burned. I worked very hard with this chap on drafting his article and drafting his motion and helping him with his speech, and for some reason when we got to the last minute, I said, "By the way, you are a voter, aren't you?" Well, it turned out that this fellow had two kids in high school, he lived in the high rent district, and he had not bothered to register to vote, which I always thought was a strange civics lesson given to his children. I was glad I found it out before we stood him up. I asked the meeting to give unanimous consent to let him speak, and the meeting let him speak and his motion was thoroughly debated but did not pass. Even though sometimes they are disappointed, people need to come away from Town Meeting feeling that they got a fair shake and that the participation was welcomed.
Facilitating the Town Meeting process involves things like this information sheet. I prepared a little one-page 8 Â½ by 11 printed on both sides piece of paper called "Parliamentary Procedure in a Nutshell." That presumably tells everybody everything they need to know about how to get something done in Town Meeting, how to make a motion, how to second a motion, how to move to adjourn, and all these little mysteries that people think are mysteries of parliamentary procedure. We use the parliamentary procedure that is contained in a little book published by the Massachusetts Moderators Association which is called "Town Meeting Time." The copyright of the book is 1962, and it was written by three fine moderators at the time, Charles Wadsworth in Lincoln, Ben Trustman in Brookline and Dick Johnson in Swampscott. I knew them all and there were none better than those three. They presided at a lot of town meetings. So that's the manual of parliamentary procedure, and it's infinitely simpler than say Robert's Rules or things of that kind. I've enjoyed the little quote in that book someplace up front talking about town meeting and parliamentary procedure and responsibilities of the Moderator, the book says "anybody who can understand the rules of baseball can run a town meeting." But that makes the point I think which is that the procedure, the technical side of running the town meeting, is relatively simple. You don't need to know an awful lot. The method, the approach, the manner is far and away the most important part of it. You have to take the Town Meeting process quite seriously, but you have to put aside any thought of taking yourself very seriously as you go along. I like to think I've been fairly successful at that. My most trusted confidant and critic is my wife Margaret. She has listened to more talk about Town Meeting and more speeches than anybody should have to tolerate, and she's a very helpful and trusted confidant. So I think that's sort of the process of facilitating the town meeting process. Making people feel that the process is understandable, that they can come and that they can make the process work for what they want to achieve.
Concord has an open town meeting. Any voter can come and speak and say whatever she or he wants to say whether people buy it or not. It is the best kind of democracy. I think it's probably the last level of democracy where an individual voter can really stand up and have an impact on how the town runs. There's always a sleeper in the warrant. Around 1985 the sleeper was the Town flagpole. We spent as I recall pretty close to half the evening in a highly charged debate as to how tall the flagpole in Monument Square should be and whether or not we needed a flagpole that was going to be taller than the flagpole in Lincoln. I think it was Dorothea Harrison, a sort of landscape designer and highly respected lady, who carried the day for a taller flagpole by pointing out that site distances in Concord because of the uneven topography were shorter than they were in Lincoln, therefore we needed a taller flagpole so people could see the flag. When you talk about the charm of town meeting, that's the kind of thing you really have to treasure and enjoy.
Town Meeting is a uniquely New England institution. As you get down toward New York and in the south and other parts of the country, you find county government and county counsels. The New England town meeting is unique. I guess if you were a scholar you could trace its history back into the Middle Ages where villagers would meet and have a big talk and decide how things were going to be done. Originally, of course, the Town Meeting was simply a meeting of the parish when the town and church were indistinguishable. The Town Meeting was held right in the church. You had to be a male member of the church to vote in Town Meeting and ladies sat in the balcony if they were invited to come at all. Of course, that's changed now and much for the better. But it is a uniquely New England institution. You can look at that painting by Norman Rockwell, which is so well known of what the New England town meeting means.
But, there is an increasingly heightened level of dissatisfaction. People think somehow they are being required to come and sit there and vote, and in this high tech age, we ought to figure out a way to let people vote at the ballot box on Town Meeting issues. They moved somewhat in this direction in New Hampshire. The Massachusetts Moderators Association has said it disfavors that idea. I jumped at the chance along with two other moderators, Jack French from Lincoln and a moderator from the North Shore, to write a paper for the Moderators Association in which we opposed the attempt to ballotize, which is the word we coined, the Town Meeting. That would take an act of the legislature in Massachusetts in order to do that. So people have to be there, they have to attend and they have to vote. There are instances for example of Town Meetings being run all day long from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night to give people a chance to come in and vote. That's been done here and there. Increasingly the legislature has required issues to go to a ballot like a levy limit override. But it's still a uniquely legislative process and as a legislative process you have to be there. To be sure, there are people who have to work in hospitals and police officers and fire stations, but we do everything we can to get people there. We provide babysitting and we provide transportation. Even before I was moderator the Selectmen set the calendar about 8 or 9 months in advance as to when the dates are going to be. A good reason, of course, for that is we use the space in the regional high school and that's a little separate political entity all by itself distinct from the town. We have to go to the person who runs that little entity, the principal of the high school, Elaine DiCicco, and get on her schedule so we can use the spaces in the high school without interfering with the rehearsals of the glee club or the orchestra or the things that are wanting those spaces. So that's another reason for working out the schedule in advance. But the most important reason is to give people a chance to adjust their schedules and get there when they can.
Once the warrant closes in January we're off and running for the actual process itself. I've spoken about helping people draft motions and helping them understand parliamentary procedure, but I've done a couple of things to try to make Town Meeting work better, at least I hope it works better. One is the consent calendar where we take 8 or 9 articles which come up every single year and which are really not the slightest bit controversial, and we put them all on the consent calendar and publish that in advance and say unless five people stand up and raise their hand, this is what we are going to do with these things. A typical example would be the article and the accompanying motion that says every year we're going to allow the Concord Light Plant to use its revenues to run the light plant. Well, of course, we're going to do that. How are we going to pay Boston Edison for the power we buy if we don't appropriate the light plant revenues so the commissioners can use the money? So that's a no-brainer. And there are quite a flock of other things which go on the consent calendar and we can dispose of 8 or 9 of those routine articles right up front and all at once. I borrowed that from Acton. Their moderator I guess sort of invented the idea. Of course it happens in all legislative bodies. In Acton one voter can knock something off the consent calendar. It used to be that way. Don't know if that's changed. I came to the conclusion that in Concord it ought to be at least five. If the matter gets knocked off the consent calendar, all that means is it goes into its normal warrant sequence and we debate it and vote it when it comes along.
Another thing that I've done more than previous moderators in Concord is so called special pre-scheduling of high interest warrant articles. That means taking an article in the warrant out of its warrant sequence and say we will take this up as the first new business after let's say 7:30 on the second night of Town Meeting and give wide publicity to that fact so everybody will know that's when this is coming up. If they're interested in it, that's the time to be there. The mere fact that the warrant is in a particular sequence doesn't mean that we will get to anything at any particular time. So this past year for example we dealt on the second Tuesday with matters related to the building of the combined visitors center and restroom facility on the Milldam so that people who were interested could be there and vote on the matter as it came up. That gives rise to the occasional charge that people are packing the meeting.
Well, as long as you have an open town meeting and as long as the hall is going to be smaller than the total voters in the town, it's always going to be possible for a lot of people to show up. Our average attendance at Town Meeting is on the first night when the money is being spent right and left on the budget and schools, we might have 700-800. The rest of the nights we'll go through with 300-400 voters. On very high interest matters we can easily turn out 1000-1100 people. We have three spaces in the high school which can be wired up so people can sit and participate simultaneously in the auditorium where the main part of the meeting is. That's where I am with the Town Clerk. Then in the cafeteria there is an Assistant Town Moderator and an Assistant Town Clerk, and then if we have to, we can go into the upper gym with parallel electronic hookups so people can see and hear what's going on and can be seen and heard in the other spaces. That's permitted by state law because as towns have grown it really needed to be done in order to let people come. We've never run out of space in those three halls.
The cafeteria has an atmosphere and an ambiance and a group of people who are there which is quite different. They are people who sit around the cafeteria tables, they bring their handwork, occasionally you see people doing crossword puzzles, playing cribbage. This year I walked through the cafeteria before the meeting started and a bunch of cafeteria regulars, an entire family with their three or four children were having submarine sandwiches for dinner. The kids came for dinner and then went to the childcare space while they would stay for the Town Meeting. The Town Meeting coordinator and other people have said, when there is plenty of space left in the auditorium, why do we keep using the cafeteria? We've run the cafeteria with maybe only 10 or 15 people in there. I said, "Lord, love them. They are there, they're voting, I'm not going to do a thing to move them out." I've heard tell that occasionally people will call up on a cell phone if the meeting is getting dull and order a pizza delivery. The pizza man comes in the side door, delivers the pizza, and they all sit and munch away. It's as good as the movies except it doesn't have popcorn. So we always have the cafeteria. It costs us a few extra dollars to buy the audiovisual equipment for the cafeteria, but I have set my face sternly against any efforts to economize by going into the auditorium alone, even when there is just a small clutch of people left in the cafeteria. It's kind of fun.
I am no fan of secret ballots. While I've sort of tried hard to suppress that, I don't think it's a big secret. I wouldn't want to even begin to count the number of times that I've stood up one way on a count in Town Meeting and Margaret Stevenson has stood up and voted the other way. We've gone through our lives like this. We differ in religion, we differ pretty much in general political persuasion, we differ a lot in Town Meeting, but somehow or other we've managed to hold it together for going on 50 years now, so I guess that's all right. Both Margaret and I have talked about this until we're tired of the subject, but part of the Town Meeting process is the pressure you feel when your neighbors are standing up and looking over to see how you're going to vote. But we both agree that they may see how you're voting at the moment, but you ask them a week later how you voted, why chances are they can't remember. There may be certain issues where people want to vote by ballot. I suppose compensation of town employees comes to mind. In Maynard for example, which is an open town meeting, that's a standard ballot issue. They always vote by ballot if something affects the compensation of their town employees. We haven't done that in Concord.
We have a ballot process and it works pretty well. We give people a voting slip which has four ballots attached to it. When the meeting decides to take a ballot, the people detach a ballot and mark it, then it's picked up by tellers and delivered to a room at the back. The room is actually Elaine DiCicco's conference room, and there is Terry Baker who is the ballot supervisor and six or seven people who sort and batch and count the ballots and report back to the Moderator as to what the count is. It takes 25-30 minutes for that process.
The Town Meeting Study Committee not too many years ago recommended that we allow a ballot if less than a majority in the meeting voted for it. You can always have a ballot if the majority vote for it, that's standard parliamentary procedure. We have a rule now which the Selectmen offer as motion each year saying that 25 people can get a secret ballot. Originally I thought that would way overtax our resources in using ballots, but it hasn't worked out that way. I think that 25 voter threshold is a little low, but I think fair analysis of the record would show that Concord Town Meeting has been somewhat sparing of its use of the ballot, so it hasn't been nearly as burdensome as I thought it was going to be when it first came along. I first remember the ballot being using at the 1997 Town Meeting. I don't remember taking a ballot before then. I remember using a marking sheet once at a caucus which is a way of taking a written vote. I don't think we have ever done that at the Town Meeting.
The idea of having a ballot was the recommendation of the Town Meeting Study Committee, and once that recommendation was made public with their report, why it was clearly necessary for the Moderator, and that was me, to get busy and stop grousing about it and try to make a workable process of it. I think with the help of Terry Baker and his core of ballot counters and with Ross Roberts and the tellers, and our perforating the little ballot at the bottom of the voting slip, it's worked well. We use a different colored voting slip every night. We number the ballots on each one and we put the date on it. I don't even know what color voting slip we're going to be using, and we tell everybody who is putting stuff out on the table for voters to look at, that it has to be done on white paper. If it isn't on white paper, we won't allow it on the table, so that the possibility of a mix up with the colored voting slips which the Town Clerk arranges is I hope eliminated. I know Ned Perry the incoming Moderator, who's just been elected, has hopes that this process can be improved by using some sort of technical wizardry. I suppose you could give everybody a little handheld dingus which when the time came to vote, they could simply press the button and that would make a yes or no vote. The trouble with that is that's very difficult to prevent the wife from going home to relieve the babysitter and leave her dingus with the husband and his voting twice. Tellers can inhibit that process by looking long and hard and making sure that people don't put more than one paper ballot in the boxes as it goes by. I'll be interested to see how we can make it better.
People talk about using voting machines, but if you use the voting machine in the Town Meeting, you're still going to have to move the people around to get them from their seat down to the voting machine and put that ballot through the voting machine. The voting machine could count it immediately and electronically and spit out the total result. Once you start moving people around in the hall, I think you're going to chew up a lot of time that we now do not chew up by letting them sit in their seats and let the tellers pass the ballot box to them. I'm not going to say it can't be improved, but at least as far as I know at the moment, as long as you're going to have an open town meeting with a large number of people who want to vote, I'm not sure how you can do it better. One of the delightful sections of "Town Meeting Time" is a section that happens to be written by Jeff Bolton who used to be the Moderator in Shirley, and he comments that another way of doing this is to have a marking sheet where the people leave their seats and come down to the front and mark the sheet with a yes or no. He suggests that in a very large meeting you can have one line for the gentlemen and another for the ladies. I don't think that will survive the next edition of "Town Meeting Time," but it's part of the charm of this now almost 40-year old book, and probably this was the way it was done in the past. All of which is to say it is not a new idea having a counted vote in Town Meeting. It is part of the process of making the meeting work as efficiently as it can.
Democracy is inherently an inefficient governmental process. It's never going to be as efficient as the competing methods of running governments. It just happens to be the best to give people the maximum opportunity to make their wishes known and to have those wishes be as effective as possible.
I inherited the process of a dry run with the presenters before the actual Town Meeting from my predecessors. Bert Newbury used to do it, Pat Moulton did it and I presume Livingston Hall did it. That's a matter of getting together with a representative of each town board and committee with the Selectmen and inviting lead petitioners on petition articles to get together in advance of the meeting and just kind of go through the whole process to see if it is all going to go smoothly. It's kind of like going through the school play with only the props and no lines to see if everybody knows what his entrance cue is and that kind of thing. We do that a few days in advance of the actual meeting. We have done it on Thursday, but this year it had to move back to Tuesday on account of Passover and Easter and that kind of thing. It gives people a chance to make a final check of do they have their slides and their overheads ready, do they know they are going to have to present those things in more than one space, I try to remember to ask them if they need extra time beyond the limits that we normally allow. If they don't arrange for that time in advance with me and I have some feeling it is justified, they are going to have to stop within the time allowed in our little booklet on town meeting traditions and procedures. So a whole lot of useful things happen at that time. Town Counsel is at that session. It is sort of a last minute opportunity to spot problems with the wording of a motion, to be sure if more than a simple majority vote is going to be required, we spot it and mark it, and everybody knows it.
A good question is at what point do we see the numbers increasing from a direct town meeting to a representative. My experience, anecdotal to be sure, is that whether you are talking about an open town meeting or a representative meeting, where the town meeting members are elected by precinct, perhaps six precincts, 40 people from each precinct, that gives you 240 voting members of the town meeting plus the Selectmen and the people who are ex-officio voters. Basically the people who have the time and energy and the gumption to go out and get themselves elected as town meeting members are the same people who are going to be there through most sessions of the Town Meeting. My personal philosophy is as long as we can get into the spaces and everybody wants to come, that's the best way to have it. Our average attendance now in no way taxes our facilities. On a high profile issue we might get 1000-1100 people there. Normal town meeting attendance may be 400-500 and in the last nights of town meeting we're lucky to have 300. We do not have a quorum requirement in Concord, so we don't have to worry about not having a quorum of voters. I once heard somebody ask Bert Newbury who was the Moderator, well if you don't have a quorum, what do you have to have in Concord to have a Town Meeting? Bert looked him right in the eye, and said, "Me and the Town Clerk." That was the end of that. I'm not in the slightest hurry to see Concord move to a representative Town Meeting, and I don't think it would change much even if we did. People who get themselves elected as town meeting members in a town like say Wellesley or Brookline or Lexington, they are undertaking quite an agenda for their constituents in their precinct. Really they ought to go to all the public hearings whether they want to or not, the Selectmen, the Finance Committee, the Planning Board, the hearing of the Enterprise Fund, they probably should have at least one precinct meeting if they can so people can talk about what they want done about a street or something of that kind which has a purely local flavor. That's quite an undertaking for busy people to take. That's why I say I think the people who are there five nights out of five on a five-night town meeting would be the same people who would get themselves elected as town meeting members. As to size, any town over 6,000 in Massachusetts can by law go to a representative town meeting. When does Concord get to that point, I really don't know. I don't foresee in anything like the immediate future at all. I guess we now have about 15,000+ population and the voting population is maybe 10,000 or so. Well, people may say that is highly undemocratic. How can you run a town of 15,000 people by having 500 people come and vote on the town budget? My answer to that is as long as there are vacant seats there, why who's to complain.
By and large Concord is a well-run town. We have a AAA credit rating on our bonds, and the Town Meeting Study Committee indicates for the most part, people think the decisions made in the Town Meeting are all made in the best interests of the town as a whole. As long as people think that, I wouldn't change a thing.
I've been asked about the appropriateness of certain warrant articles for Town Meeting, such as Article 39 on this year's Town Meeting warrant which had to do with the controversy around Orchard House and the law suite over it's special permit. Well, way back in the Vietnam War days, sometime in the ‘70s, I remember a town meeting where we voted in some context or other whether or not to instruct our representatives in Congress that the Vietnam War ought to end. Having that kind of article in the warrant is not a new thing. It happens. I think it is a healthy part of the process. What's the point of having a legislature if you can't bring up some idea that isn't directly going to result in a new law or legislation. So this year it was the Orchard House Article 39 and whether the meeting should vote to support the treasurer of the Orchard House. The background of that was the Orchard House got a limited special permit. They bought a house across the street to use for their office while the main house could be shored up and fixed architecturally which it desperately needs. I think that kind of article has to be, as far as the debate is concerned, kept within strict bounds. This year I was very anxious not to allow that debate to get into the question of the litigation involving the Board of Appeals special permit because I thought that was totally inappropriate. We succeeded in that. I got the cooperation of the lead petitioner on Article 39, and I was in contact with the attorney for the people on the other side of that law suit. He didn't want the Town Meeting to start debating the law suit. That was not going to get anybody anywhere except to raise a lot of hackles and leave people with a bad taste. The Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to support and affirm Orchard House and hoped that all goes well. We didn't get into the litigation issue and it didn't take too long to work ourselves around to that vote. I think it worked quite well. It puts a demand on the Moderator and a demand on the meeting to understand the need to be economical and discriminating about that kind of thing.
Years ago we had a spirited debate on fluoridation and fluorides in the water and whether the town should fluoride it's water. At the time we were living over in Conantum and that water district had been fluoridating water over there for years and years and nobody's teeth had fallen out. So it's a healthy part of the process. It doesn't seem to get overused at all. It would be a terrible burden, and I don't know how you would say, this article can't go on the warrant if someone comes along with an article that says we ought to remember the Holocaust or vote in favor of Mother's Day. It would put an absolutely impossible burden on people in government especially the Moderator to say we'll talk about this but we won't talk about that. It's much better to rely on the good sense of the meeting. And, I've never been disappointed in that process. The corporate good sense of the American town meeting is absolutely enormous. If it decides it wants to spend one-half of an evening talking about the height of the flagpole, that's just fine. That's okay. That's part of the charm of an open town meeting. It's what makes the process unique and individual to each town. Legally, of course, the corollary to that is that the Massachusetts government passes lots of laws about how towns are going to work. The Supreme Judicial Court has allowed maximum freedom to town meetings to run the way the town wants them to. In no small measure one of our townsmen here, Herbert Wilkins, who just retired as the Chief Justice, has been part of that idea. He doesn't want in the court system a lot of decisions being made about town meeting. He's written decisions keeping the emphasis on the fact that it is a legislative body and ought to be allowed to make its own rules within very broad limits to run the way it wants to. I'm not opposed to these little things coming along, whether it is the Vietnam War or the Orchard House or what have you, and relying on the good sense of the meeting to deal with it in an intelligent and economical way.
The Town Counsel and Town Moderator work together in many ways. It's been a great help to me to have been Town Counsel for ten years because I bring that knowledge over into the Town Meeting process. I think a Moderator who had never been involved in municipal law would need to do some studying in order to get up to speed so to speak on municipal law matters. But I worked very closely with Gordon McCouch who was Moderator during my time as Town Counsel. We talked every day and wrote motions and warrant articles back and forth. Gordon was an engineer by profession, but a highly intelligent man who quickly understood issues of municipal law. But it enormously simplified my process when I became Moderator. I suppose the next question is "Is it necessary?" And of course, the answer is "No." Does it help? The answer is "Sure, it helps." There are towns where Town Counsel sits right up on the stage next to the Moderator and can kind of grab the Moderator's sleeve and say hey, no, you're making a big mistake here. We've never done that in Concord. The people up on the stage are the Moderator and the Town Clerk. Town Counsel is sitting right down there in the front row, and periodically I've called on Town Counsel. I called on him this year to give a legal opinion on a matter so the Town Meeting could take that into account in how it was going to vote.
The Town Meeting can decide what it wants to do based on what the Town Counsel has to say. We have excellent Town Counsel. My successor has been Norman Cohen who lives in Lexington. He is a partner in the Boston firm of Palmer & Dodge and is Town Counsel in a number of towns in Massachusetts. I've known him all my professional life and I have the highest regard for his opinions on municipal law matters. We are good buddies. Even before I became Moderator, when I was Town Counsel, I would bring up Norman Cohen when I was kind of stuck and ask him what he would do. So we're very fortunate in that respect. We spend a fair amount of money on legal advice in Concord, but on the whole I think it's worth it. Our credit rating and our low interest rate on bonds that Concord issues show that we're doing all that fairly well.
Each Moderator brings his own style to running the meeting. As I said before, my philosophy has been not to take myself too seriously but to try to take the process very seriously. So this year, for example, during that debate on the Orchard House and Article 39 when some unsuspecting voter tried to open up the subject of litigation, I kind of romped all over him in no uncertain terms because I decided we weren't going to get into that and he was out of order and had to sit down. I think the poor fellow was a little taken aback by my heat over the matter and my slamming the gavel, but I didn't want that particular can of worms opened up, and I didn't want any misunderstanding as to how the meeting was going to go in that respect.
On the other hand we have a voter who lives in West Concord and comes to Town Meeting and never takes his hat off and stands up and one would think he was being somewhat flip and disrespectful occasionally. The fact of the matter is he's a highly intelligent man and that's just happens to be his style. I don't take it the least bit personally and he understands that. My predecessor Gordon McCouch used to get occasionally exercised with this fellow, but I never do. I try to encourage people to be brief and to get to the point and say something we haven't heard before and that kind of thing. Again without taking myself too seriously in the process. I think that has paid off. People appreciate staying away from what I call the "parliamentary pyrotechnics" and try to make the meeting run intelligently and economically. An example of that might be the gentlemen I mentioned earlier, who after all the work we had done on his school roof matter, I discovered he wasn't a voter, and therefore in theory, at least, he couldn't speak in Town Meeting without the consent of the meeting. I didn't ask for the consent of the meeting. I just stood up and said he wasn't a voter and he worked hard on this and I asked for unanimous consent to let him speak. No hands went up to object and we let him speak. We didn't get into the question of whether we were going to vote on hearing what this fellow had to say or not. That was totally unnecessary and the meeting would not have liked that particularly.
The tenure of a Town Moderator varies widely. Historically and traditionally in the 40 or so years that I've lived here, we moved here in 1959, Moderators that I've seen were Livingston Hall, who was one of my professors in law school, Bert Newbury, Frances "Pat" Moulton, and Gordon McCouch. So on average 10 years max and maybe lately it has been around seven or so when the Moderator feels it's time to move on. We elect the Moderator every year so if people don't like what the Moderator is doing somebody can run against him and see if the town wants to make a change. Marshall "Pete" Simonds in Carlisle, who was my law partner when I was in law practice, has been Moderator in Carlisle for almost three decades. Carlisle is a small town and they love him. But he's stepping down this year. So again I guess it's a matter of the flavor and desire of the community. One of my favorite anecdotes about this is about a year or so ago at a meeting of the Massachusetts Moderators Association we stood up and had a toast to a fellow who had been Moderator for 35 years in some small town out in the western part of the state, and he was now going to be succeeded by his grandson, which I thought was pretty nice. But Concord is too diverse and too rich of a community in terms of its population. This is sort of analogous to our two-term rule on the town boards and committees. We say people ought to serve two terms and then they ought to step aside and take a vacation whether it's being Selectman or being a member of the School Committee on being one of those appointed to a town committee. Obviously a Moderator being elected every year has to go longer than two years, but Concord doesn't need people to keep on going in the elective or appointive town offices. There are plenty of competent people available, and they need to be called on.
With my retirement this year people ask if I'm going to miss it. Sure, of course, I'm going to miss it. It's a bittersweet moment. I've enjoyed it, sometimes more than others, but on the whole I've enjoyed it as much as any role I've had in town government going back 30 or more years. It's been a fun thing to do. But that's not a good reason for going on beyond where I am right now. It's time to move on.
As I mentioned, I had been Town Counsel during Gordon McCouch's tenure, and of course, I had been going to Town Meeting all the time I lived in Concord and had a number of opportunities to speak in Town Meeting on various things, so I understood the process thoroughly. Gordon and Betty McCouch were moving to a retirement community up in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Gordon was going to step aside after about seven or so years, and it was a totally normal thing for me to do to announce that I was going to run for Moderator. There wasn't anybody else around that was really obvious to take the job. I didn't have any opposition, and I haven't had any opposition in any year that I've run. It just felt right at the time. I went ahead and was glad to do it. Now this last time Town Counsel lives in Lexington, so he wasn't qualified. When I decided maybe the time had come to step aside, I talked to a number of people. Some expressed interest and some not. I decided to announce fairly early on that I was not going to run again, so we could have a full and adequate opportunity for people to get nominated and run for the job. We had three highly qualified candidates, any one of whom would have done an excellent job in his or her own style. I think that was a healthy process in the long run. We could probably stand a few more contested elections in Concord so that people could understand that these offices can be contested in goodwill and sort of bring people into the elective process that way. I don't think its healthy never to have any contest, but Concord is too rich and diverse community not to keep the government fluid in that respect.