EASTHAM — “Aren’t we having fun?” Moderator Scott Kerry asked, as 312 voters settled into folding chairs in the Nauset Regional High School gym for the annual town meeting.
Then Kerry officially opened the May 2 meeting with a more serious reflection: “How very fortunate we are to have a meeting where every citizen’s vote counts,” he said.
As the moderator introduced various town officials, he expressed gratitude for the presence of the town’s legal counsel. “With a two-hour open mic,” said Kerry, “it’s always good to have a lawyer here.”
While other Outer Cape towns use paper cards held aloft to tally votes, Eastham uses an electronic transmitter system. After a light next to Kerry’s podium turned green — bringing to mind Gatsby’s American dream or maybe a traffic light’s go signal — voters had 30 seconds to press button one for “yes” or two for “no.”
To provide practice, Kerry asked, “Did it rain today?” His practice question produced the evening’s most divisive vote, with 58 in favor and 108 opposed. Besides petitioned articles that the select board argued against, it was the only proposition that did not garner a two-thirds majority.
During public comment on Article 6, to authorize the town’s purchase of the Beach Plum Motor Lodge for workforce housing, one man pointed out that 20 transmitters had stopped working.
“Who’s in charge of that?” Kerry wondered.
Kerry invited additional public comment on the article while the crowd waited for the technical issue to be resolved, but when a woman began proposing the conversion of the T-Time property into hundreds of affordable housing units, Kerry interrupted, asking her to stick to the article under discussion.
“Oh,” she responded, “I thought we were just randomly throwing things out there while we waited to fix the transmitters.”
Fourteen people voted “no” on article 15 — a proposition to ban Holtec International from dumping radioactive water into the Cape Cod Bay — perhaps indicating some confusion about how to use the voting system.
The moderator maintained a fast pace and the meeting wrapped up after just two and a half hours. Still, avoiding a possible traffic jam at the parking lot exit proved to be one of the people’s top priorities. Eastham folks left in droves during the final 30-second voting period.
After the meeting ended, voter Gene Toland approached an Independent journalist with dismay. “I thought you were the youngest citizen, but you’re just a reporter,” he said.
Toland said the meeting had him thinking about the heightened importance of democracy at home during a time of threatened democracy abroad.
“Most of my life I’ve spent in undemocratic countries like Bolivia,” Toland said. “These town hall experiences are good, and it’s important to be able to express dissent. Even when you’re looking at your watch,” he added, “and it’s getting late.”