Town Meeting: Traditional Vs. SB2 And Big Issues This Year

Mar 5, 2019

Credit Britta Greene for NHPR

About twenty years ago, New Hampshire adopted a new option, known as SB2, for local government involving a two-part process: a deliberative session and ballot voting.  We ask how this has affected town governance, in terms of citizen participation, the issues that come up, and how they're resolved.

GUESTS:

  • Howard Altschiller - Executive Editor and General Manager of the  Seacoast Media Group, which includes The Portsmouth Herald and Foster's Daily Democrat. 
  • Peter Basiliere -- Milford town and school moderator for more than 10 years. Milford was one of the first towns to adopt the SB2 form of government.
  • Chris Hawkins -- Newmarket town and school moderator for about five years. He has served in numerous local government positions, including town council and school board. Newmarket is an SB2 town. 
  • Cordell Johnston --  Government Affairs Counsel for the N.H. Municipal Association. He is also a former selectman and former member and chairman of the planning board in the Town of Henniker. He serves as the town moderator for Henniker, which holds traditional town meeting. 

Some Background on Traditional Town Meeting, SB2 Towns, & the Debate Over These Forms of Town Governance.

NHPR's Todd Bookman reports on a recent deliberative session in Exeter -- and the twists and turns in a debate over a proposed tax cap.  

The Keene Sentinel reports on some of the rules and misconceptions about town meeting and reports that SB2 towns are already "knee-deep" in deliberative sessions.  

See seacoast online for reporting on town meeting season in the seacoast region, including the towns of KensingtonHampton, and Exeter.

This piece was written before SB2 was adopted and more recently updated by Cordell Johnston, of the N.H. Municipal Association: 16 things to know about upcoming town meeting.

The Mondadnock Ledger-Transcript takes a look at the arguments for -- and against -- adopting the SB2 form of town government and finds that participation in SB2 town deliberative sessions in their coverage area has been on the decline.  

  • Among the pros: "SB2 proponents say the deliberative session model gives voters time to consider the arguments and answer any additional questions they have before making a decision." 
  • Among the cons: "Proponents of the Town Meeting system argue low turnout at deliberative session results in a less informed voter base, and that a particularly low turnout could mean a small voter base could amend and drastically impact the warrant articles the larger voting base sees at the polls.

Citizens Count looks at how SB2 towns work and and tracks legislation addressing this form of town governance, including several House bills proposed this legislative session.  

N.H. Magazine takes a humorous look at town meeting and other town traditions. 

Listen to an earlier Exchange discussion on town meeting vs. SB2. 

Curious About How New Hampshire's Government Works?

The podcast Civics 101, produced at NHPR, is a podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works. This year, they launched a project called Civics 101: New Hampshire, which looks specifically at the nuances of our state and local government. This weekend, they will have an entire episode devoted to town meetings. 

You can find the episodes they have produced so far here:

Governor: "We break down precisely what power the governor holds and who constrains that power."

Secretary of State: "Our lives leave behind a paper trail: birth certificates, marriage licenses, businesses licenses. So we’re not just sharing landmark moments with the people we love. We’re also sharing them with the Secretary of State’s office. But besides keeping keeping records, what else does this office do? And what role does it play in our day to day lives?"

The State Budget: How It's Made: "In part one, we trace the life of the budget, from when it's a glimmer in the eye of a state agency to a full-grown piece of legislation."

The State Budget: Where The Money Goes: "In our second episode about New Hampshire’s state budget, we crack open the budget and look at what exactly we spend all our money on."