April 29, 2009

With Friends (and Moderators) Like These...

Justin Katz

Contrary to aspersions in the comment section of my previous post on this topic, my source was not incorrect that Town Council member Jay Lambert voted against Mike Burk as financial town meeting moderator. According to a Sakonnet Times article (not online), following a profiles-in-courage strategy, he changed his vote, apparently in a way, by tone or by timing, that kept the news from getting back to members of Tiverton Citizens for Change right away:

After an initial 5 - 1 vote made it clear that Mr. Burk had won, Mr. Lambert asked to change his vote to Mr. Burk "to make it unanimous."

I'll say this: TCC moved quickly last summer. For the next election, it may be that we'll need a better developed endorsement procedure.

As for Mr. Burk, himself, he's very confident in his own capacity for neutrality:

Council member Louise Durfee said that Mr. Burk, in his application, had addressed these concerns. In the e-mail, Mr. Burk said that while "I am certainly a passionate advocate for my beliefs, I also fully recognize that the Moderator's role is to be the neutral arbiter and facilitator of the Town Meeting and I take that role very seriously."

Mr. Burk went on to say he recognizes the need to put his own beliefs in his back pocket "to ensure a fair Town Meeting process" and said that others who had seen him in action leading meetings would say "I am a very fair and reasonable facilitator."

First, as I mention in the comment section to a letter that I sent to the Sakonnet Times, Mr. Burk has previously given some indication of his fidelity to rules by asserting it to be his job (as a school committee member) to advocate for their budget using resources available to the committee, even though that's explicitly against school department administrative policy.

Second, I'd point out that the back pocket is a nicely accessible location from which to draw a metaphorical knife. Moderators help to determine who speaks when, to determine what is and is not in order, and even to make the call on voice votes. It is not unreasonable paranoia to imagine that advocacy can have a way of creeping into one's judgments on such matters. Recall, for example, the moment at last year's FTM when an audience member challenged the one and only amendment — of the allowable three — to propose decreasing the budget on the grounds that he had been at the microphone first. He was lying, and even a toss of the coin would have been unfair.

Can we expect balanced judgment from this man?

  • Cursing at the Budget Committee (language warning): stream, download (4sec)
  • Same, only this time using a religious swear: stream, download (4sec)
  • Shouting at Budget Committee member Cynthia Nebergall: stream, download (1min 18sec)
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Mr. Katz,

You are entitled to your own opinion but NOT your own facts. Watch the meeting and you will see that Mr. Lambert did not change his vote. Although voting late, he clearly stated his vote in favor of Mr. Burk. He did not change his vote. His vote in favor was the ONLY vote he cast. Your information is wrong. Never assume based upon the press. Get it straight and please watch the meeting.

Posted by: Proudtovote at April 29, 2009 8:27 PM

Clearly, they are not my facts. Two separate sources, one of them a professional news publication, have stated that the initial vote was 5:1.

Perhaps Council Vice President Joanne Arruda erred in declaring the vote, but the point is ultimately minor, inasmuch as the vote for Burk was bad enough on its own.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 29, 2009 8:49 PM
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