FOR TOWN MODERATOR: Matthew Wolverton

Years in Marblehead: 44 years (with a brief absence during college and law school). Occupation/Education: Attorney, Juris Doctor from New England School of Law, graduated magna cum laude in 2010.
Appointed Positions and/or Elected Offices: Previously served one three year term on the Marblehead Cemetery Commission.

What are three reasons/issues as to why you’re running for election?

The first reason I am running for town moderator is that Gary Spiess, who has served the town well for 16 years is not seeking re-election and therefore we will have a rare vacancy that needs to be filled. Second, as a life-long resident, and in the spirit of volunteerism and my own personal belief in the importance of community service, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring. Finally, as an attorney, I have had the opportunity to regularly appear before state courts and administrative agencies, as well as numerous municipal level boards and departments. I believe that I possess a unique set of skills and relevant experience that is necessary to serve the town well as its next moderator.

At least on the national level, our political discourse has grown more coarse and even borderline violent. What will you do to ensure that Town Meeting debate remains civil?

Through the fair and impartial application of the procedural rules that govern Town Meeting, I believe we can continue the spirit of community and civility that has generally held true in our Town Meeting in past years. Within the conduct of the meeting, the Moderator has relatively broad authority and can impose limitations on presenters and speakers. It is through the fair and impartial use of this authority that we can continue to maintain the civil discourse that has governed town meeting debate over the years. Throughout my legal career, I have seen first-hand how the fair application of procedural rules can protect and preserve the rights of all parties and the integrity of the system as a whole. In order to maintain civility, I intend to ensure the public is informed about the process, to apply that process with fairness and impartiality, and to use the authority of the Moderator to require that all participants maintain a proper level of civility, mutual respect, and decorum throughout.

Part of the job of town moderator is to strike a balance between giving as many residents as possible a chance to have their voices heard while also ensuring that people’s time is not wasted by making the proceedings as efficient as possible. What guidelines will you use to strike that balance?

Balance is the key to doing the job of Town Moderator well. In order to strike this balance, I believe strongly in the uniform application of the procedural rules that govern, both as provided in the moderator’s handbook of parliamentary law, Town Meeting Time, published by the Massachusetts Moderators Association, and the past practice and precedent set by my predecessors. In the legal practice, rules that govern civil procedure generally promote the common objectives of obtaining a fair and just result, with relative certainty and speed. Therein lies the heart of how this balance can be obtained. I believe the Moderator’s role is to oversee the procedure, while staying removed from the substance, and this should be the primary guideline to be followed.

What are the challenges you see the town moderator faces during town meetings?

The most significant challenge faced by the Town Moderator during town meeting is the fair application of the rules in order to obtain the balance, discussed above. Effectively ensuring that the business of the town gets done, in an efficient manner, while allowing presenters, proponents and opponents the opportunity to be heard. This often comes down to judgment calls.

Throughout the meeting, the Town Moderator often has to make on the spot decisions, at times with the advice of town counsel. These decisions are critically important to the process. Thus, being familiar with the rules and well prepared in advance, is essential to the role. This, in and of itself, is the biggest challenge faced by the Moderator during town meeting. In addition, there are a number of unanticipated circumstances that may arise, whether by way of motion from a citizen or simple technical difficulties, that may interrupt the conduct of the meeting. Being knowledgeable, prepared and quick on your feet are the skills essential to overcoming these challenges. In addition, not only as an attorney but as a husband and father of six young children, I engage regularly in all forms of dispute resolution, which makes me well equipped to handle these challenges.

Do you see the moderator’s role as being largely ceremonial and limited to the day or two the meeting is actually held, or is the role broader than that? If the latter, how so?

I personally believe that we have no ceremonial roles to be played by elected officials in this town. All elected officials owe a duty to the town and those who they represent. I see the role of the Town Moderator as being much broader than the one or two days that the meeting is held.

This is a year-round position. First, it is important to reflect on the successes and failures of the meeting, as well as the novel issues that may arise, immediately after the meeting is held while it is fresh in mind, in order to improve. Second, the process of preparing the Warrant begins in November when the Warrant is opened by the Board of Selectmen. The Moderator plays a role in conjunction with the Board and the Finance Committee, in preparation of the Warrant. Finally, the Moderator may assist members of the voting public in advance of Town Meeting with certain matters, such as the proper form for Citizen’s Petitions, and should be available to answer questions for community members when appropriate. As Moderator, it is important to participate in the process of preparation to guarantee a full understanding of the articles to be presented, oversee proper form, and to ensure they have been appropriately vetted by the various boards, departments, town counsel and the police and building commissioner where an enforcement component is necessary. In addition, our current Town Moderator has done an excellent job preparing guides and materials for citizens. I believe all of these opportunities to be of service, as well as the prospect of a Special Town Meeting being called, make this a year-round position.

Especially in light of recent struggles to ensure that everyone is following the proceedings adequately, what role should technology play in how Town Meeting is conducted?

I believe technology can be used to greatly enhance the conduct of Town Meeting. However, it must be reliable and appropriate back-up must be in place in the event of technical failure. There is a lot that goes into the preparation for town meeting, and much anticipation among the members of community who participate. Reliable technology should be used fairly and appropriately to enhance the meeting for the participants, sponsors and presenters, and to assist all of those involved behind the scenes so that the business of the town can be done in an orderly manner. The sponsors, presenters and opponents have one opportunity to voice their opinions, and the voting members have one opportunity to cast their vote. Technology can be an effective tool, but without adequate consideration and proper preparation, reliance on ineffective or unnecessary technology can also have negative results. As Moderator, I intend to reach out to other communities in the Commonwealth to learn how they are using technology to increase efficiency, and where they have found both success and failure in the past.

As a final note, I would just like to thank the Marblehead New Group for providing this opportunity for voters to access more information about me as a candidate for Town Moderator. With recent changes in local news sources, this has become critically important as of late. A well-informed public is essential to the health of our democracy. No matter where you stand politically, the lack of a focused and independent media outlet places all of us at risk.

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