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Finance Committee Discusses “Muzzling” its Members

If Chairman Marc Schaen had his way, none of the Finance Committee members would be allowed to speak in opposition to the committee's majority position at a Town Meeting. Schaen proposed such a rule at his committee's March 9 meeting, but members took no action on it.

"A number of members have approached asking what is the right protocol or a right thing for a Fin Com member to do at Town Meeting if, in fact, that person disagrees with the majority of the Fin Com," Schaen said. "I don't think it's right, in my opinion, that anyone gets up, as a member of the Fin Com, and speaks in opposition to whatever the Fin Com voted." Continuing, he said, "Over the years, it's not been the norm."

Schaen noted that, historically, Finance Committee members who want to vote against the committee's stance on an article returned to their precinct seats – if Town Meeting Members – to vote against a measure. But, in his view, having a Finance Committee member speak out against the committee's majority view just serves to "undercut" the committee's credibility.

"That pesky First Amendment still gets in my way," responded Committee member Alberto Correia. "I don't care about the First Amendment," Schaen joked. "I've got the Second Amendment that says I can shoot you." Replied Correia, "I can see not talking from the FinCom table. I can see the person that we ask to represent us not talking against the Fin Com's position." If members disagree, they can then sit with their precincts, he said. "Getting up and advocating for that position is not beneficial to this committee or Town Meeting because that sends a different message," Schaen countered.

A member could always speak in opposition to the majority view at a Finance Committee meeting, Schaen said. Correia then suggested that a member could ask to present a minority report. "I just have a problem stifling your ability to speak," he said. "I'm struggling." "Trust me, I'm struggling, too," Schaen replied.

Committee Member Niro said he agreed with both men, noting that the public identified Schaen and Correia as being "the Finance Committee" while they might not feel the same as with himself, a newer member. He said he agreed with the right to speak, but noted "You're the Fin Com."

Correia said the issue boiled down to whether an individual member – not the chair or vice chair – could get up and speak against the committee's position.

"Let all be frank here, this is the Chris amendment that we're talking about," Vice Chairman Christopher Morin joked. "Let's not paint it any other way," Morin was referring to his stand last year against the Fin Com's recommendation regarding how much money should be used to offset the tax rate.

"When I did do it, I went and sat in my precinct as a precinct member. And, I think I did everything right," Morin said. "Looking back at it, does it give the wrong impression because I gave

the [Finance Committee's] presentation that night? Yes, I think people can definitely take that perception," he said. "Saying that I'm not allowed to talk at a Town Meeting as a Town Meeting Member just because I'm on this committee, I have a problem with though."

He voiced support for a committee policy that would disallow committee members making the financial presentation to Town Meeting Members from publicly challenging the committee's majority opinion. "But, saying just because I'm on the Fin Com I'm not allowed to talk to Town Meeting anymore, I have a problem, with that," Morin said.

Long-time committee member Aldo Cecchi voiced his view, "I don't see being a member of this board says I have to surrender my individuality. "I truly believe that." He continued, "I think as a democracy, we make a recommendation as a group. As an individual, we'll make our own decisions. Hopefully they'll coincide, but they don't always."

Correia said the committee failed itself last year, since it knew that Morin opposed the majority opinion on offsetting taxes, yet it asked him to make the financial presentation. "For that meeting, where you're not able to, in good conscience, represent us, then don't be the chair that night," he said. "Ask somebody else." Correia continued, "As Aldo said, I have a problem taking away your right if you feel passionate about something, and it doesn't happen that often.


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