The state Attorney General’s Office has rejected a bylaw Town Meeting members passed to allow nonbinding resolutions to be proposed with 48 hours advance notice.

In June, Town Meeting members voted 36-0 to support Corinne Riley’s article to add a section to the town bylaws that establishes a process for the introduction of nonbinding resolutions at Town Meeting.

Riley’s article stipulated that any Town Meeting member can propose a non-binding resolution, with 48 hours written or electronic notice to the town clerk, who would then notify the town moderator of the resolution and forward it Town Meeting members for review.

“Resolutions may not seek to appropriate funds, propose zoning or general bylaw changes or have any binding effect on the operation of town government,” the bylaw reads. “Resolutions will not be considered as actions of the Town Meeting as defined by MGLC h. 39 S10 but rather statements of opinion in accordance with past practice. Resolutions will be acted upon during the next Town Meeting or within a Town Meeting that is temporarily adjourned, whichever comes first. A majority vote of the quorum will be required to adopt a resolution.”

Assistant Attorney General Nicole Caprioli determined the bylaw conflicts with state law in that it authorizes Town Meeting members to vote on an item not included on a Town Meeting warrant.

In a Sept. 23 ruling, Caprioli wrote the Attorney General’s Office disapproves of the town’s bylaw governing Town Meeting resolutions in its entirety.

Caprioli spelled out how the proposed town bylaw conflicts with state law that establishes the requirements for Town Meeting.

“General Laws Chapter 39, Section 10, requires that a Town Meeting be called ‘in pursuance of a warrant’ and requires that the warrant state ‘the subjects to be acted upon’ at the Town Meeting,” Caprioli wrote. “Moreover, G.L. c. 39, § 10, provides that ‘no action shall be valid unless the subject matter thereof is contained in the warrant.’ . . . The proposed Section 214.00 conflicts with G.L. c. 39, § 10, because it proposes to allow a Town Meeting to vote on a matter not included on the Town Meeting warrant. For this reason, we must disapprove and delete the new Section 214.00 proposed under Article 3.”

The Attorney General’s Office is required to disapprove the proposed new section governing resolutions because the town cannot by bylaw provide for a process to allow Town Meeting to consider and vote on subjects that weren’t included in a properly posted and noticed warrant, Caprioli explained.

 

Local reaction

Riley submitted the resolutions article in response to Town Moderator Steve Doherty denying Town Meeting member Ron Wallace from proposing a nonbinding resolution in support of the Saugus school custodians.

At the time, Doherty said he prevented Wallace from speaking on his resolution because the resolution didn’t appear on the warrant. He pointed out that under state law any action taken on a subject at Town Meeting isn’t valid unless it was listed on the warrant, which is intended to provide notice to citizens about what will be discussed at Town Meeting.

Riley stressed it was unfortunate that discussion on the custodian issue was silenced by the School Committee and then again at Town Meeting.

“Saugus residents deserve a voice in their government,” Riley said. “This bylaw was intended to ease the cumbersome process for a Town Meeting member when, like the custodian issue, the issue is time-sensitive. Perhaps there will be another way for it to be on the books in the future. I will always work to expand opportunities for individuals, either citizens or elected officials, to express themselves on matters of public importance.”

Wallace said he respects the decision by the Attorney General’s Office.

“I’m a little disappointed seeing Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported it, but I need to concentrate on retaining my seat in Precinct 5,” Wallace said. “I have worked very hard in my two terms and I hope the residents want me to continue to be a voice for them. I also want to wish everyone in town running in this election good luck!”

Doherty agreed with the Attorney General’s ruling to reject the request to amend the town bylaws to allow Town Meeting nonbinding resolutions submitted with 48 hours notice.

The decision is a good thing in that it insures that the intent of the state statute, which requires public notification of all items to be voted on, is upheld, Doherty said.

“It’s important to note that the Board of Selectmen will include any item on an upcoming warrant that is submitted by the published closing date and has the required voters’ signatures,” Doherty said.

Town Counsel John Vasapolli said the Attorney General’s Office ruling is consistent with what he advised Town Meeting members – that a matter must appear on the warrant before Town Meeting members can act on it.

Vasapolli said he was clear in communicating to Town Meeting members that for any action taken at Town Meeting to be valid the matter needs to appear on the warrant.

Even in the case of a nonbinding resolution, Vasapolli contended that people might want to speak on the matter and thus they require sufficient public notice.

“The public has a right to know what action Town Meeting will be taking,” Vasapolli said.