Sunday, November 8, 2009

In the Line of Fire: November 15th at 2 pm

In the Line of Fire:
Brookline Police Who Gave Their Lives
in Service to the Town

Fall Meeting of the Brookline Historical Society

Sunday, November 15, 2009, at 2 pm
at Brookline Town Hall, 333 Washington Street
(Refreshments will be served)

Boston Globe 1904: Murder of Joseph McMurrayIn the long history of the Brookline Police Department, two officers -- Joseph McMurray in 1904 and Joseph O'Brien in 1930 -- were shot and killed in the line of duty while responding to crimes.

Brookline Detective Kenneth McHugh, a 31-year veteran of the police force and unofficial department historian, has conducted extensive research into the cases of these two officers. Det. McHugh will tell their tales in an illustrated presentation as part of the Fall Meeting of the Brookline Historical Society.

Following the meeting, Det. McHugh will lead a tour of the Public Safety Building, headquarters of the Brookline Police and Fire Departments.
Brookline Public Safety Building

The Fall Meeting will also include a demonstration of the Historical Society Web site, first place winner in this year's New England Museum Association's Publication Awards Competition.
Brookline Historical Society Web Site

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 1915: Brookline Votes for Representative Town Meeting

On this date in 1915 Brookline Town Meeting as we now know it was voted into existence.

On November 2, 1915 Brookline's voters overwhelmingly approved a change from traditional town meeting to a limited or representative town meeting in which "town meeting members" are elected by voters to represent them in the town's legislative body.

Brookline thus became the first town in Massachusetts to adopt this variation on the traditional New England open town meeting. (In an open town meeting any registered voter in attendance can participate in decisions.)

Today, 39 of Massachusetts' 298 towns operate under the representative town meeting system. The others retain the traditional open meeting format. (There are also 53 municipalities in the Commonwealth with a city form of government.)

Representative town meeting was proposed as early as 1897 by Brookline's Alfred D. Chandler (1847-1923) as a means of dealing with the growth of the town's population. By 1915, Chandler later wrote, only about 20% of the electorate could fit in the 800-seat Town Hall where town meetings were held.

The town meetings were therefore controlled by the first to arrive, or the strongest, and often by the least responsible, creating a situation that sapped the 'vital feature of the town system of government' which has so long been recognized and is practicable in small towns, but is unavoidably lost in large towns.

Alfred D. ChandlerChandler's proposal was taken under consideration in Brookline in 1900 but not adopted. Instead, Newport, Rhode Island in 1906 took up the idea and became the first municipality in New England to install a representative town meeting form of government. (Chandler served as a consultant to Newport.)

Members of Newport's 195-member Legislative Council came to Brookline in 1914 to describe their experience as Brookline debated whether to follow their lead. In January 1915 a petition was presented to the state legislature, and later that year the legislature passed "An Act to Provide for Precinct Voting, Limited Town Meetings, Meeting Members, a Referendum, and an Annual Moderator in the Town of Brookline."

The final step—approval by the town's electorate—took place in November by a vote of 3,191 to 1,180. The final town meeting under the old format took place on December 15, 1915, two days after a plan dividing the town into nine precincts for the new system was formally adopted.

On March 7, 1916 voters elected 27 town meeting members from each of the nine precincts. Stormy weather and a lack of competitive races for town-wide offices kept turnout to 40% of registered voters, reported the Boston Globe .

In addition to the 243 precinct representatives, the new legislative body would include: any state senators and representatives living in town; members of the Board of Selectmen; the town moderator, town clerk, and town treasurer; and the chairs of the Board of Assessors, the School Committee, the Library Trustees, the Walnut Hills Cemetery Board, the Water Board, the Parks Commission, the Planning Board, the Tree Planting Committee, the Gymnasium and Baths Committee, and the Registrars of Voters.

Interior of 1873 Town HallThe first town meeting under the new format took place on March 21, 1916 in Town Hall. A railing across the width of the meeting hall restricted the front part of the room to town meeting members. (Brookline police checked their credentials before letting them through.)

The nearly 400 seats reserved for spectators were packed. (Any registered voter could speak, though only town meeting members could vote.) "The efficient manner in which Brookline's first meeting, under the new limited town meeting act was conducted in Town Hall last evening, influenced a great many of the citizens in the belief that the experiment will be successful," reported the Boston Globe.

Also among the spectators were representatives from other towns who were considering the new format for their own communities.

Representative town meeting continues to be the form of government used by Brookline today. There are now 16 precincts with 15 town meeting members each. Town meeting today also includes members of the Board of Selectmen, the town clerk and moderator, and any state senators or representatives who live in town.


* The portrait of Alfred D. Chandler is from A History of Brookline, Massachusetts, from the First Settlement of Muddy River Until the Present Time: 1630-1906 published in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the town. Chandler's grandson, Albert D. Chandler Jr. (1918-2007) was a professor of business history who Fortune magazine called “America’s preeminent business historian.”