It’s January 2023, and as we do every year, folks in Arlington are taking out nomination papers, gathering signatures, and strategizing on how to campaign for the town election on Saturday April 1st. The town election is where we choose members of Arlington’s governing institutions, including the Select Board (Arlington’s executive branch), the School Committee, and — most relevantly for this post — Town Meeting.
If you’re new to New England, Town Meeting is an institution you may not have heard of, but it’s basically the town’s Legislative Branch. Town Meeting consists of 12 members from each of 21 Precincts, for 252 members total. Members serve three-year terms, with one-third of the seats up for election in any year, so that each precinct elects four representatives per year (perhaps with an extra seat or two, as needed to fill vacancies). For a deeper dive, Envision Arlington’s ABC’s of Arlington Government gives a great overview of Arlington’s government structure.
As our legislative branch, town meeting’s powers and responsibilities include:
- Passing the Town’s Operating Budget, which details planned expenses for the next year.
- Approving the town’s Capital Budget, which includes vehicle and equipment purchases, playgrounds, and town facilities.
- Bylaw changes. Town meeting is the only body that can amend the towns bylaws, including ones that affect housing and commercial development.
Town Meeting is an excellent opportunity to serve your community, and to learn about how Arlington and its municipal government works. Any registered voter is eligible to run. If this sounds like an interesting prospect, I’d encourage you to run as a candidate. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Have a look at the town’s Information for new and Prospective Town Meeting Members.
- Contact the Town Clerk’s office to get a set of nomination papers. You’ll need to do this by 5:00 PM February 8th, 2023 at the latest.
- Gather signatures. You’ll need signatures from at least ten registered voters in your precinct to get on the ballot (it’s always good to get a few extra signatures, to be safe).
- Return your signed nomination papers to the Clerk’s office by February 10, 2023 at noon.
- Campaign! Get a map and voter list for your precinct, knock on doors, and introduce yourself. (Having a flier to distribute is also helpful.)
- Vote on Saturday April 1st, and wait for the results.
Town Meeting traditionally meets every Monday and Wednesday, from 8:00 — 11:00 pm, starting on the 4th Monday in April (which is April 24th this year), and lasting until the year’s business is concluded (typically a few weeks).
If you’d like to connect with an experienced Town Meeting Member about the logistics of campaigning, or the reality of serving at Town Meeting, please email info(AT)equitable-arlington.org and I’d be happy to make an introduction.
During the past few years, Town Meeting was our pathway to legalizing accessory dwelling units, reducing minimum parking requirements, and loosening restrictions on mixed-use development in Arlington’s business districts. Aside from being a rewarding experience, it’s a way to make a difference!