In Moderation

The Representative Town Meeting gathered for the new term last night and it was an unexpected evening. Normally, the first meeting of the term is strictly organizational beginning with the party caucuses where leadership is firmed up, standing committee assignments reviewed and then into the main meeting. We nominate our Moderator and Deputy Moderator then get some required reading on ethics and Freedom of Information laws. Committees are confirmed, we’re all welcomed and that’s usually that.

I had let it be known that if no one else was interested, I would like consideration as Moderator, largely because I think I have good relations with both sides of aisle in addition to extensive experience running meetings – both in my professional career and as Finance chair last term. The job of Moderator requires time prior to the meeting, setting up the Agenda with the Town Clerk, determining which committees hear which items and then conducting the meeting, keeping things running smoothly according to Robert’s Rules. The two previous Moderators were RTM veterans who commanded a lot of respect so there were some awfully large shoes to fill.

No one else expressed interest so last night at caucus, I was selected as the party’s nominee. At the meeting, my nomination went up against that of Republican veteran Jim Walsh, a smooth, experienced guy who I like. Still, with a 26-22 majority in attendance, I beat out Jim and took the podium to conduct the meeting.

Talk about nerves. I’m standing there, reading from a script I had hammered out with my predecessor (it pays to come prepared!) and blanking on the names of people I know quite well. As the minutes passed, I gained a little more confidence especially once names returned to the forefront of my memory.

We selected our Committee on Committees to confirm the standing committee assignments, took our recess, heard back from them and then broke into our new committees to select chair, vice chair and secretary. This term I’ll be on Public Works which will give me a little more perspective on the town’s infrastructure. Afterwards, the new committee chairs announced the assignments and we were off and running. We zipped through approving the 2008 calendar and minutes from the previous meeting.

Then came items 6 and 7 – which were to establish a building committee and approve its membership. I had suggested in advance they be taken up together and that went fine. Then came an onslaught of comment and opinion as to whether or not we should hear the item as a Committee of the Whole, or maybe delay this to the January meeting which was quickly amended to delaying this to the December meeting. Along the way, I took notes, called on people and tried to keep things running. I tackled various Points of Order and motions and goofed here and there, using a wrong term. I did, though, remember everyone’s name.

When the question was called, requiring a vote without debate, I acknowledged our Majority Leader, who called a caucus which I granted, following the rules. I was then privately advised I committed a rookie error – once the question was called, the vote should have been taken. When we reconvened, I apologized to the Body and we proceeded.

In the end, the item was heard as a Committee of the Whole but when we began comment, the first speaker introduced a new motion to postpone consideration until the December meeting. This was unanimously approved and we concluded the night.

To say I was overwhelmed by this baptism of fire is a mild description. While people from both sides said I did well, and woke up to find some e-mails of support, I still think I could have been smoother with the meeting’s conduct. If anything, a common criticism was I spoke too fast or too close to the microphone.

It took some time at our bipartisan socialable soda for me to regain any sense of perspective.

No doubt, come December, I’ll be ready and better.

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