Proposal would reduce size of Town Meeting

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Responding to declining interest among residents over the past decade in serving as Town Meeting representatives, Reading Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner is proposing to reduce the number of members by one-fourth.

The proposal, which would require approval by Town Meeting, the Legislature, and Reading voters, would reduce the number of Town Meeting representatives from 192 to 144. Each of the town’s eight precincts would elect 18 members, rather than 24.

“It seems to be a more sustainable level than what we have now,” Hechenbleikner said.

Over the past five years, the number of candidates seeking election to Town Meeting has averaged just 82 percent of the 192 positions, according to Hechenbleikner. This year, as a result of the redistricting required by the 2010 Census, all 192 seats are up for election. But the total number of candidates is just 134.

In 2002, by contrast, there were a total of 208 candidates, and all eight precincts had enough candidates to fill all 24 seats.

The proposal also would require that any write-in candidate receive at least 10 votes to be elected – equivalent to the number of signatures required to get on the ballot.

Reading is among 36 Massachusetts towns that have representative town meetings. Communities such as Braintree, Randolph and Winthrop have ended their representative town meetings in recent years in favor of a city or town-council form of government, but Hechenbleikner said he does not sense significant sentiment in Reading to abandon Town Meeting.

“We just don’t seem to be quite right-sized right now,” he said.

Written by MMA Associate Editor Mitch Evich