Fairness First is a coalition of Essex residents seeking to end at-large representation on the Essex Selectboard, in favor of district-based seats.
Fairness First was inspired by a recent school merger that provided equal representation among the two Essex districts -- 4 seats to Village reps and 4 to Town-outside-the-Village (TOV) reps -- on the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) Board.
After collecting 1,083 signatures from Essex residents, our proposed charter change —3 Village reps and 3 TOV reps — was placed on the 3/3/2020 ballot.
Because 61% of the voters townwide said YES that day, the size of the present 5-member Selectboard will increase by one seat, once the legislature approves this charter change.
What's Wrong With the Way We've Always Done It
The current at-large model supposes each Selectboard member can understand and represent all-at-once the interests of 22,000 people living among a variety of settings: downtown, suburban, rural.
In reality, Selectboard members take up and vote for issues they are most familiar with, meaning whichever half of town controls the majority of the un-even-numbered seats will also control the direction of policy-making and budgeting.
As Fairness First co-founder Irene Wrenner puts it, “Watching these meetings is like sitting through repeated hockey games, in which one team always has a power play, and the other team never gets the puck!"
Surveys and focus groups providing feedback on the proposed merger indicated participants’ support for equal representation.
With approximately equal populations inside and outside the Village, Fairness First believes a new, even-numbered board format will provide equal and fair representation -– and foster improved relations within local government, whether the two budgets fully merge or not.
Fairness First believes that equal teams negotiating on behalf of same-sized constituencies will better determine the best way forward for Essex with all getting an equal say.