As we get ready for the Town Meeting, it’s good to have a refresher on how exactly our Town government operates. Our Select Board and Committees are the executive branch of town government. The executive branch carries out and enforces laws that the Legislative branch passes.
Town Meeting is the legislative branch of town government. Voters in Open Town Meetings have a great deal of power. They decide budgets, authorize spending of town money, create or amend zoning bylaws, create or amend by-laws, and offer elected officials a sense of the town's opinions, even on non-binding matters.
Town Meeting decides three major things:
It sets the salaries for the elected officials.
It votes to appropriate money to run the town; this is our entire Town budget.
It votes on the town’s local statutes, which are called by-laws.
In our State the governor “proposes” a budget, and the State legislature parses through it and makes the decision. In North Andover, we are the legislature. When items are proposed by citizens or recommended by the town, we have the opportunity to agree or disagree or even change it if we think it’s a bad idea. We do not have to follow any recommendations of the executive branch. In fact, town meeting exists to be a check on the power of our town’s executive branch. It’s easy to be in the habit of staying the course. It’s also easy to provide new direction by voting!
The ONLY way to change the by-laws for the town, including zoning, is through Town Meeting. You will hear talk that some of the other high-density housing were brought to town meeting so there is no need for a moratorium. Many of those zoning items were changed years prior to a proposal in place such as Avalon and East Mill. Additionally, zoning by-laws are complicated, and the true ramifications are lost when a bunch of legal jargon is presented to Town Meeting. Regardless of prior approvals, the legislative branch (YOU, if you attend Town Meeting) has authority to change the direction at any time; citizens can even call special town meetings.
The two-year pause provides time to complete studies, expand on existing ones and put a price tag on elements to plan for the future. The Town has admitted the water capacity and sewer capacity studies haven’t been done! They will now, because of this citizen petition. We want North Andover citizens to be the ones working on this study because we are the ones that have skin in the game, so there is no current need for an appropriation. Additionally, we are confident the Town Manager would fund particular areas of concern that needed some financial assistance or we can easily ask for an appropriation to another Town Meeting. We can’t come up with a plan until there is a frank and open discussion on all the impacts, both positive and negative, of new housing. This will not happen unless we take a pause to force the issue, and then come up with a plan for responsible future growth.