If you’ve ever attended Annual Town Meeting, you know it can be a lengthy affair. Warrant items are introduced, their merits debated and discussed, and votes are taken. The counting can then take upward of 20 minutes. The cumulative effect is a meeting that lasts for several hours or even days.
According to the latest census, only 11% of Hopkinton residents are over the age of 65, but you wouldn’t know seniors are the minority by looking at the audience. Many people with school-age children do not attend; in my informal survey, the primary reason they cite is a lack of childcare.
This makes sense. Town Meeting is always on a weeknight when parents are flooded with competing priorities; getting dinner on the table, driving their kid to a sport, helping with homework, and getting them to bed. Sitting in the Middle School auditorium listening to neighbors endlessly debating leash laws falls far lower on the list for most parents.
The consequence is that senior citizens, who may have more free time, are overrepresented at Town Meeting.
I’ve previously written on Town Meeting and that I think Hopkinton would be better served with a city council / mayoral structure. But this is the form of government we have, so why not make it easier on parents?
Open Town Meetings are a cornerstone of Hopkinton’s community engagement. Offering childcare will usher in a broader spectrum of voices and ideas, making the meeting outcomes more reflective of our town’s diverse and rapidly changing demographics. Census takers that identify as Asian comprise almost 16% of Hopkinton’s residents, and from my observation there was nowhere close to that many that attended Annual Town Meeting last May. Why don’t they attend, and what are we doing as a community to engage them? Many of them are parents, and would enjoy the opportunity for childcare services.
Shared experiences, like attending Town Meeting, can deepen our bond with each other. By allowing more families to participate, Hopkinton can foster a sense of community spirit and unity. A more engaged community is likely to support local businesses, participate in town events, and ensure sustainability.
Demonstrating a genuine commitment to all residents, particularly those with young families, will put us on the list of forward-thinking communities. North Andover, Tewskbury, and Great Barrington all offer childcare at Town Meetings. They recognize the challenge and have stepped up to help parents.
Much is at stake at this Special Town Meeting on November 13. Voters will be deciding on the Elmwood School, a $158 million project with far-ranging tax consequences for every homeowner. There is also a warrant about the role political parties will be allowed to play in our local elections. These are serious issues that should be decided by voters from all walks of life.
From a practical standpoint, offering childcare seems feasible. There are 11 commercial day care facilities in Hopkinton. Finding a room at the Middle School adjacent to the auditorium to provide children with games, books, toys and movies for a few hours is very manageable. There are no shortage of volunteers in the form of high school Juniors that could apply their time to National Honor Society hours.
The town is spending $14,500 to bring electronic voting to this Special Town Meeting, which I believe is a worthy investment because it will speed up the time required for vote counts, and allow residents to maintain anonymity when casting their votes. How much more could it be for a couple hours of professional daycare (if not entirely donated by one civic-minded organization)?
At a meeting last night, Select Board member Shahidul Mannan told me he had suggested childcare in the past, but it fell on deaf ears. “I was the lone voice,” he said. Town Clerk Connor Degan has also tried to move ahead on this and indicated that the process had stalled.
Let’s support our growing community by making Town Meeting accessible to all and easier for parents to attend. We can do better for our neighbors and we should.
Peter Thomas is the Editor-in-Chief at HopNews.