Plymouth’s form of government is a Representative Town Meeting. This page contains summary information about Town Meeting with a focus on what it takes to be a representative — a Town Meeting Member.
What is Town Meeting?
Town Meeting is the oldest form of government in the United States and is practiced today primarily in New England. Essentially, it is the voice of the people voting on what they want in their town, how they will raise and spend money and set policies that define the character of the town. For example, Town Meeting approves the proposed budgets for all town departments, approves voting by-law changes, changes to town policies, including land-use policies, spending from special funds (like the Community Preservation Act), and citizen-sponsored initiatives.
The roles, relationships, and processes for Town Meeting, the Select Board, town departments and committees are defined in a town’s charter. As towns become very large, they may opt for different forms of governance, for instance having a Mayor and/or a City Council. Plymouth’s charter, voted on by all residents in 2021 maintains the Town Meeting form, but as a representative town meeting. This means that each precinct (politically-defined sections of the town) elects neighbors to represent them at the Town Meeting. At present, each precinct has nine town meeting members. Typically, they are elected for three-year terms, with the terms staggered so that only three member slots need to be voted on each year.
Each precinct elects a chair each year, who manages the caucus, and participates in the Committee of Precinct Chairs, whose role is also defined in the charter.
Qualifications for Town Meeting Members
The only qualification to be a Town Meeting Member (TMM) is that you must be registered to Vote in the Town of Plymouth.
The most important implied qualification is that you are interested in civic life, you are curious about how the town works and decisions are made, and you want to make a difference in the quality of the life of our town and its neighborhoods.
If you are wondering if you have “what it takes,” consider that yes, your first year might offer some moments of bewilderment, that there are experienced citizens in your caucus who can help you with the processes.
How Much Work Is It?
Twice a year, in the Spring and the Fall, the Town Meeting Members are convened to vote on warrant articles proposed by town officials and approved by the Selectboard. These meetings can sometimes be long, but satisfying. Each warrant article may have proponents and opponents, and you will need to listen to these views and discuss with other town meeting members. You can — and should — ask questions to be sure you understand the importance of passing an article.
Three weeks before town meeting, you will be part of your precinct caucus to review the warrant articles, listen to presentations from the town professionals who are proposing articles, and discuss with the caucus the merits of each article. At Town Meeting, you vote your own conscience, but you will have learned a lot through the caucus meetings so you can make a decision that will make a difference.You may feel that you do not have enough knowledge to delve into all aspects of a warrant. However, among 162 members, there is sufficient diversity of skills, knowledge and expertise that there is adequate scrutiny and oversight of the content of the articles. You may also have specific expertise that you will be able to bring to the discussion.
Other times of the year, you are an engaged citizen in Plymouth and may choose to attend Selectboard, Planning Board, and other meetings to keep yourself informed about issues and opportunities that arise in the town. Because you are a town meeting member, you are more aware and knowledgeable about how the town works, and feel pride in your part in it.
For full details about Town Meeting and the role of a Town Meeting Member, see the Town Meeting Handbook. For additional details, including a link to the list of current town meeting members, see the Town Clerk’s web page on Election and Town Meeting Information.