Selectmen pledged to empanel a subcommittee to establish protocols ensuring proper preparation of the town warrant after several procedural snafus nearly derailed the June 15 annual town meeting.
According to selectmen Chairman Mark Elfman, the informal review will likely be initiated in July and include himself, Moderator Frank Spillane, Town Clerk Robert Cutler and Town Manager William Keegan.
In a nutshell, the original warrant text did not include a line-by-line accounting of proposed spending for either the operational or capital budgets. With town meeting postponed four weeks, that omission went unnoticed until early June, when a revised warrant was hastily prepared.
But the supplemental text ran afoul of advance posting requirements, prompting Spillane to proceed with the original version and providing voters with a detailed budgetary handout upon arrival.
Combined with pandemic-related logistical challenges in the high school auditorium, it contributed to a confusing experience for voters.
On hand to discuss the matter at Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting, Spillane focused on two overriding concerns: First, a glaring inattention to detail after the original warrant was prepared and second, the assertion that he was obligated to abide by opinions rendered by the town’s hired attorneys.
“Town counsel [reflects] one individual’s opinion,” Spillane said. “Every town is different. They have different bylaws and they read them differently.”
In response, Selectman Chris Mitchell suggested that board members would be inclined to accept an opinion from legal counsel in virtually all circumstances.
“That’s what we pay them for,” he remarked.
Spillane also emphasized the need for a thorough review of all key documents, telling selectmen that Foxboro’s original zoning bylaws had been thrown out following a court appeal, also due to a violation of posting requirements.
Earlier, Selectwoman Stephanie McGowan said she had insisted the matter be included on Tuesday night’s agenda in order to facilitate public discussion while the topic was still fresh in people’s minds. She confessed to being confused by Spillane’s complex explanation at town meeting and suggested that ordinary voters were even more confused.
But Elfman judged her intent misplaced.
“We all know a mistake was made,” he said. “I don’t think that now we need to go back and rehash it all.”
Accepting responsibility for the omissions, Keegan characterized the errors as a process issue exacerbated by personnel turnover in both the town manager’s office and finance department on top of disruptions associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everyone in our office was new,” he said. “Everyone in finance was new.”
Selectwoman Leah Gibson said she hoped the subcommittee review would result in a lasting framework and avoid any future problems.
“We just need to have protocols along with the built-in time and discipline,” Gibson said.