Jack Attridge is our new town moderator, and what a year to start a new job.
For the first time in almost 20 years, voters will likely be asked to pass a general override to enable the town to maintain its current level of services.
We are living in challenging times right now with various strong and vocal disagreements on so many issues. It is not unreasonable to believe that this current climate may permeate our Town Meeting when controversial articles are being debated.
It is more important than ever that our moderator is able to maintain order and civility, ensuring that proponents of differing points of view are given the opportunity to present their arguments while preventing emotional outbursts and personal attacks. These are fundamental requirements for a civilized society to conduct its business.
We heard from Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer in last week’s State of the Town report that current employee contractual obligations and rising costs, including but not limited to anticipated escalation of health insurance premiums, coupled with declining levels of free cash will prevent a continuation of our basic services absent such an override. Many in town are questioning both the need for such an override and the impact it will have on many of our residents, particularly those who are on fixed incomes.
For decades, Marblehead has been fortunate to have Town Meeting managed by skilled moderators, Steve Howe and Gary Spiess, both of whom were attorneys who brought their legal skills onto the stage each year, smoothly guiding the proceedings from start to finish.
Attridge, while not an attorney, exhibits a level of enthusiasm with an earnest desire to continue the leadership we have come to expect from our town moderators.
He has been studying “Town Meeting Time,” a publication of the Massachusetts Moderators Association, and he has been watching countless YouTube videos of Town Meetings from other Massachusetts municipalities, all in an effort to ensure that he is well prepared for the procedural aspects of running Town Meeting and to get a sense of how other moderators have conducted themselves in this role.
Further, Attridge has been meeting with private citizens who have sponsored articles for this upcoming town warrant, often referring them back to town departments affected by their proposed articles in an effort to see if proposed actions can be accomplished without the need for Town Meeting approval.
While undertaking all of these actions in preparation for his first Town Meeting as moderator, Attridge has also been exploring ways to improve and modernize the mechanics of future meetings, such as considering whether the satellite sites might be set up differently and whether, down the road, there might be the ability to have votes recorded by electronic devices, which would remove the “peer pressure” inherent in having to raise one’s hand in full view of one’s friends and neighbors.
We wish Attridge great success in carrying forth the longstanding tradition of excellence exhibited by his predecessors. By all accounts, he appears to be up to these tasks.
Marblehead deserves nothing less.
The Current Editorial Board
The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.