Sunapee Deliberative Session Over. New Debate Begins.

Many in Sunapee recall town meetings before SB2 was adopted in 1997 and when hundreds of people would gather to debate and vote on town business. After this year’s deliberative session, some are saying they’d like to see the traditional town meeting return, as they’re increasingly turned off by the deliberative process. SB2 has two-steps: A deliberative session followed by the town meeting election in March.

Not until 9 p.m. did the meeting turn to the town budget and other money and warrant articles. Despite all the economic woes, not one question was asked about the $5.7 budget, the broadband question and other articles on the town warrant.

One voter described this year’s session as a “joke.” She left angry over the handling of articles 36 and 37 that relate to projects and oversight of the town’s beautification committee. She was not alone. Others said they were confused and felt the meeting was derailed to achieve a specific purpose, to overturn the petitioned articles.

After the first two hours, 40 voters nixed the last two warrant articles leaving many drained and distracted.

Operating under SB2, depending on voter participation, a group of 30-40 voters can void an article before it even gets on the ballot, said one attendee. She could not recall it happening before in Sunapee.

Shortly after Sunapee’s town meeting began at the high school gym February 3, Town Moderator Harry Gale moved to article 36 and 37, which led to lengthy debate on the subject, pro and con. Some challenged the amendment to article 36, as it appeared to reverse the meaning of the petitioned article so as to keep the selectmen in control over the beautification fund. The original wording sought to put the voters at annual town meeting in charge.

Some asked: Was it OK to change the wording of an article if a YES and NO vote in March made do difference?

Others were confused by the process and the purpose of the secret ballot vote that was earlier requested by five voters in writing.

The NH Attorney General’s office said RSA 40:13 (b) governs: “Warrant articles that are amended shall be placed on the official ballot for a final vote on the main motion, as amended.”

“Once the amendment passed (39 – 35), it moves to the ballot,” one observer said. The secret ballot vote served no purpose. The AG’s office agreed.

While some arrived well organized and aware of the pending amendments and secret ballot request, others were thrust into trying to understand what the changes meant and whether they were proper.

There is wide leeway in amending articles. The AG’s office confirmed it is up to the voters at the first session to accept or reject amendments. New Hampshire Local Government Center also advises on this.

As for bringing the back the traditional town meeting, 3/5th vote is required. With the 2009 deliberative session over, a new debate around town appears to be emerging over SB2 in Sunapee.

Article 36 & 37 Before and After the Deliberative Session

BEFORE the deliberative session, Article 36 read:

Are you in favor of amending the procedures for receiving monies from the Sunapee Beautification Fund as established at the March 2004 Town Meeting, Warrant Article 37, by requiring that all projects relating to and expenditures from the Sunapee Beautification Fund be approved by vote of the Annual Sunapee Town Meeting?

AFTER the amendment, and going on the March ballot, Article 36 now reads:

Article 36:  Are you in favor of amending the procedures for receiving monies from the Sunapee Beautification Fund as established at the March 2004 Town Meeting, Warrant Article 37, by naming the Board of Selectmen as agents to expend?
By petition
YES
NO

Sunapee News Note: The Sunapee Beautification Fund was created after the 2004 Town Meeting “appointing the Town Manager, under the direction of the Board of Selectman, as agent to expend after receiving advice from an oversight committee.”

BEFORE the deliberative session, Article 37 read:

Article 37: Are you in favor of keeping and maintaining the Sunapee Town property situated in Sunapee Harbor and known as the Lake Front Harbor area (Old Steam Boat Landing), which area is adjacent to the public restrooms, and the Ben Mere/Gazebo lawn area open and green without a maze, stepping stones or additional granite benches?

AFTER the amendment, and going on the March ballot, Article 37 now reads:

Article 37:  Are you in favor of keeping the Sunapee Town property situated in Sunapee Harbor and known as the Lake Front Harbor areas (Old Steam Boat Landing), which area is adjacent to the public restrooms, and the Ben Mere/Gazebo lawn area in good condition, with any modifications or additions however the Board of Selectmen decrees it to be?
By petition
YES
NO

Editorial disclosure: The author of this post is a Sunapee resident that signed petition article 36 and 37  presented to board of selectmen for the 2009 town warrant.

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