This week’s public meetings of Southbridge’s governing bodies should provide an interesting set of counterpoints.
On Monday the Town Council will receive a presentation from the Town Clerk on the fate of a citizens’ petition. Sponsored by a group calling itself “We The People” headed by former Town Councilor James Marino, the petition calls for Southbridge to return to a selectmen/town meeting form of government.
Based on her recent public comments, the Town Clerk will provide an opinion of counsel as to whether a vote on the petition at the next town election would be binding or non-binding upon the town.
Based upon past history we might also see an opinion that the petition is not considered by counsel to be in the proper legal form.
Regardless of the outcome of her presentation and the opinion of counsel, the meeting of the Southbridge School Committee the following night will provide a test of the basic premise of the petition.
The sponsors of the petition are seeking a return to town meetings to return control of the town to “the people”. Given the opportunity, the assumption is, people will speak out in public to express their opinion on various issues required to run the town effectively.
Nothing has generated public interest in Southbridge since the decision on the town landfill like the last meeting of the Southbridge School Committee. The YouTube video of the meeting has received almost 500 views since it was posted. That level of viewership is unprecedented in the history of the local public cable access studio’s YouTube channel.
Comments on this site have been universally critical of the actions of the officials at the meeting. Other local blogs and FaceBook sites supportive of the committee and the administration have been essentially devoid of comment or simply not accepting them.
Given this degree of interest it will be informative to see the level of public turnout to take advantage of the “Public Input” portion of Tuesday’s School Committee meeting. If the public is unwilling to speak out publicly on a matter of such concern, just what can we expect in terms of participation when it comes to the more mundane matters of governance that is the fodder for town meetings?
In essence, Tuesday night will be a dry run to see if “we the people” really have what it takes to actively participate in a democracy.