TOWNSEND -- With Townsend's third Proposition 2 1/2 override election coming up on Nov. 13, town officials want to make sure residents know how to get their voices heard in an appropriate, constructive setting.
With that in mind, Library Director Stacy Schuttler, Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan and Selectman Sue Lisio are working together to hold an event titled "Introduction to Your Local Government." The event is sponsored by the library and is being held at Town Hall on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.
The event will discuss various roles of the different governmental bodies and their meetings, dispel myths about local government and instruct residents on how they can participate.
"It seems like a lot of people...don't understand how local town government works," said Schuttler. "There's so much confusion and misinformation out there."
Additionally, participation from residents at municipal meetings has continued to dwindl over the years, according to Sheehan and Lisio, and the problem is not Townsend-specific.
"It's more of a national trend of people becoming less and less involved in government at all levels," he said. "People are less inclined to be vocal because they don't know what questions to ask, and in many cases because they don't know enough about the process, they're afraid of asking what they perceive as a silly question. So they sit there and don't say anything, and at the end, they're frustrated.
Because of that, the three hope to instruct residents on when and where to ask which questions, and who is capable of answering them.
There are a few important things Sheehan, Lisio and Schuttler want residents to note: First and foremost, the session is not a forum to discuss the upcoming Town Meeting or the override, but rather a means of helping people better understand the roles, rules and regulations of the various meetings.
"The intent is to keep it non-specific and non-politcal. We don't want to talk about specific items coming up at Town Meeting, more about various levels and positions within local government and whose responsible for what," said Sheehan.
Although officials have some concerns over the event being used as a session for political debate, they plan to address their intentions immediately about the purpose of the meeting.
"The timing is both good and bad. We've got Town Meeting coming up in a couple of weeks (on Oct. 30) and then two votes coming up within a month after it. I'm sure there'll be people who want to talk about specific local issues that are hot right now but I think what we'll do is try to make it clear at beginning that we're not here to talk about the budget situation or the merits of the override or any of that, we're just here to talk about how the local government works," said Sheehan.
Also, the event is not intended to be a lecture, but rather a question-and-answer session.
"It's more based on the questions we've heard people ask -- what's this mean, what's that mean... It's a chance for people to understand better. There are lots of things that for some reason folks just don't know," said Lisio.
"We're having it in the Town Hall so it can be participatory," said Schuttler.
Following the event, the group hopes that attendees walk away not only with a better understanding of local government, but also how crucial their roles are residents are.
"I'm hoping people will say (about Town Meetings), 'This is too important to just sit home,'" said Sheehan. "The old adage of 'Every vote counts' became very clear back in August with Ashby (who passed the override by three votes)."
Schuttler said that so far, about 15 people have expressed interest in attending the session, and she hopes to see many more. For more information, Schuttler can be contacted by phone at 978-597-1714 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.