Visualizing The 2019 Town Meeting Warrant

3 minute read

I’ve always been curious about how Town Meeting works in Massachusetts, and since I’m now running for TMM in the 12th precinct, I’d better get serious about doing the research! My first step was to simply find all the information about the warrant for our 2019 Town Meeting. It’s simple to find warrant - but not so simple to understand it all.

What is the Town Warrant?

The warrant is a formal document that describes what matters will be discussed or decided at a Town Meeting - the agenda, if you will. In days of yore it was likely printed up and either posted in the local meetinghouse, or delivered via horseback.
Today, the warrant is still sent by mail to all households in town - and is also posted on the town website.

You can read through the posted warrant either in your web browser or by downloading the PDF file, but it quickly becomes obvious that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes here. Many of the articles in the warrant are straighforward reviews of reports - but the reports being reviewed aren’t included there. And as legal documents, many articles are proposing specific and detailed changes to bylaws, but unless you’ve read the whole 102 page Zoning Bylaw for Arlington recently, each little change won’t make sense on it’s own.

2019 Town Warrant - Visualized!

To better understand last year’s warrant, I’ve built a visualization of the 2019 Arlington Town Meeting Warrant. This includes all the data from the warrant you can find online, plus annotates it all:

  • Follow the (view official article) link to see the official text used by the town, so you can check that I copied the right text.
  • Articles include the pass/fail status and what the votes for it were.
  • Many articles were amended or changed; when I could find this data, the links to the proposed amendments are included at the top.
  • Articles always come from someplace - see who inserted the article in the warrant at the bottom.
  • Many articles are related to each other, so there are links to navigate back and forth.
  • Town boards often provide detailed reports about their articles, so you can read the Supplemental Information here too.

Note that while I have written a parser for various data in the warrant, much of the work preparing and cleaning the source data from the town is still manual. So if something’s missing, I probably haven’t finished it yet.

Limitations On Warrant Data

  • While all text and data have been derived from official town documents, errors can happen. And remember: the only legally official documents are the ones on the town website.
  • This site reflects the formal 2019 warrant as used at the start of town meeting. Many articles were amended or substituted during the meeting process: those changes are not reflected in the article text here. However any posted amendments are noted by title at the head of any article, and links are included in the Supplemental Documents at the bottom.
  • All Pass/Fail and vote data is derived from official town spreadsheets that I got via public records request; they’re transposed to .csv files.
  • Some comments on Supplemental Documents by Redevelopment or Select Boards are paraphrased from the actual report notes. For full details, read the linked reports on the town website.

How To Report Corrections

If you’ve spotted an error or problem, please let me know! Be sure to also include source links or other documentable proof if there’s an error in anything that comes from the town, I’m trying to ensure everything presented about government matters has a clear source.

The best way to submit a specific correction is to propose an edit on any page directly: at the very bottom, find the “Propose change on GitHub” link. Make just the specific correction you’re suggesting, and then include detailed comments and justification in the Commit Changes edit boxes.

Note that the data for the article text, crosslinks, votes, and the like are all found in the underlying _data/*.json files, not the markdown.

If you don’t have a GitHub account, they’re free - but then again, if you’re not a software type, you probably will just want to email me instead at shane@menotomymatters.com.

Thanks for reading!