SOUTH HADLEY — Due to its town bylaw, a Town Meeting Review Committee is appointed every five years to report its findings and recommendations regarding ways and means to improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of Town Meeting to the Select Board within six months of its appointment.

The most recent report was submitted to the Select Board in 2016, so recently 11 members were appointed to the committee which met 19 times between July 2023 and May 2, 2024. They also hosted a public forum session.
The report includes 65 pages of recommendations and data they gathered including a 24-question survey that was distributed to the 120 Town Meeting members in October 2023.

Based on the date, satisfaction with the size, format, effectiveness, efficiency and information about Town Meeting was strong at around 70-75%.

The committee recommendations reflect ideas and incorporate comments regarding communication with Town Meeting Members, the frequency of Town Meeting, its location and the budget approval process.

A two-question survey was also conducted to determine how the citizens felt regarding if they feel informed about Town Meeting and their opinion about the effectiveness and effectiveness of the current form of Town Meeting.

A total of 847 responses were collected and it indicated that a significant percentage of the public felt poorly or only somewhat informed about Town Meeting and that many respondents did not know whether Town Meeting was functioning effectively and efficiently.

Town Moderator John Hine served as chair of the Town Meeting Review Committee and discussed the recommendations from the committee.

He said, “After holding 19 meetings and one public forum session and after surveying Town Meeting members and the general public, the committee developed recommendations that fall within four areas of concern.”
Those areas include access to information that would inform Town Meeting members of their roles and responsibilities, communication, Town Meeting itself and looking at bylaws.

Hine said the report has been submitted to the Select Board and has been emailed to Town Meeting members.
Everyone else can also view the report on the Town Meeting page on South Hadley’s website at www.tinyurl.com/4yaxy847.

“I encourage not only Town Meeting members but residents as well to read the report and to be involved as the Select Board follows up and discusses these recommendations,” Hine added.

Town Administrator Lisa Wong and the Select Board went over the recommendations during its June 4 meeting.

For Town Meeting information, Wong discussed recommendations including a potential onboarding process or advisory committee to possibly create a handbook as well as work with the moderator and town clerk on a calendar.

She also said she would like to see appropriations add this report to their next agenda and discuss the inclusion of departments in the budget presentation process.

Wong added, “If the ultimate goal is we want to see a handbook, we want to see it online, we want there to be an onboarding process, there are many different ways we can go with that.”

The Select Board discussed and agreed that they will charge Wong and the departments with the task of putting together a potential handbook that contains information on Town Meeting.

Wong said she will begin a working draft that she will share with the public as the process progresses. For Town Meeting accountability, the report showed that surveyors wanted to strengthen the connection between Town Meeting members and their constituents.

Wong recommended possibly having the town clerk requesting Town Meeting members to publicly publish their email addresses for people to send their concerns to and have Town Meeting members better informed.
She also discussed publishing attendance and a voting record, which has taken place the last two years, and have members looking for re-election gather at least 10 signatures.

“We have a lot more research to do here,” Wong added based on what the laws are in terms of re-election.

Wong and the Select Board said they will continue to work on the recommendations including exploring other locations for Town Meeting to take place, changing the presentation of the budget and pre-selecting a Fall Town Meeting date.