I am writing to express my support for Greg Christiana as town moderator. I have been a member of Town Meeting, and active in town affairs in other ways, for the last five years. I have been impressed with Greg’s fairness and openness in every context in which we have worked together.
These qualities are becoming increasingly important as Town Meeting itself becomes more diverse and handles a broader and more diverse range of matters. To be sure, it is necessary to master the arcana of parliamentary procedure. But it is even more important to manage the discussion in Town Meeting in an impartial way that makes everyone feel respected and listened to – a way that ultimately builds trust.
In recent years, Town Meeting has become much more democratic and transparent. Much of that has been caused by the rise of the precinct meeting in most, but not all, precincts, a movement in which Greg has played a leading role. Today, by the time the gavel comes down, there has already been a vigorous discussion of many of the matters that will come before the body. More members are becoming active participants.
Technology has had a major influence. A Zoom precinct meeting is easier to arrange than one that requires a physical space. Similarly, Zoom has greatly increased attendance at town meeting. We are unlikely ever to return completely to the traditional meeting in Town Hall. Virtual meetings are great enablers of participation. The rest of the world is working on reimagining Zoom with a human face, and we will not be untouched by that. Both increased democratization and increased reliance on technology have changed how town meeting is done. We need a moderator who is comfortable with change and willing to lean into the opportunities it presents.
As a retired lawyer, I somewhat ruefully reflect that the role of moderator will increasingly call upon the skills of computer engineers rather than those of my former profession.
Much of what is wrong in virtual meetings can (with time) be alleviated by a moderator who inhabits a virtual world and is alert to the opportunities it offers. We should not be aiming at a virtual equivalent of in-person meetings but at an innovative format that takes advantage of technology. At the same time, there needs to be accommodation for those who miss the pageantry, rhythms and sociability of the old sort of town meeting. Figuring out the right balance (with whatever tools state law provides) will be one of the main tasks of the next moderator.
A supporter of the current moderator has noted that a challenge to the reelection of a town moderator is almost unheard of in Arlington. That thought should give us pause. The incumbent is a likable, capable person who has many accomplishments to his credit. He has given it his best shot. And yet, it is clear that something has gone wrong. The level of disaffection in Town Meeting is worrisome.
We are at an inflection point. I am convinced that Greg is best equipped to take stock of where we are and to lead us into a new era, to go beyond merely adjusting to changed circumstances but to seize upon them and innovate from here.