WILMINGTON — After serving as Wilmington’s Town Moderator for two terms, Rob Peterson announced at the annual Town Meeting that he won’t be seeking re-election in 2021. The reason, which he explained at the Town Meeting, is that he wants to see change in Town Meeting that he feels he can’t work for impartially in this position.
Peterson has moderated six annual town meetings and two special town meetings since 2015. Being the moderator fulfilled the things that his experience as a lawyer taught him to love, like studying and applying rules and helping others to understand them.
While he shared that he’s ready to move on from the elected position, he sees his time as moderator as a great opportunity to be involved in what was going on in town.
Considering how to best serve the town and make Town Meeting better, Peterson said that his role as moderator has been a blocker preventing him from speaking freely.
“If you have to oversee the meeting and be impartial about discussions, you can’t advocate and oversee discussions if brought to Town Meeting,” he continued.
At this point, he’s ready to step out from behind the podium to make real change instead of letting others have all of the say on the desirability of Town Meeting suggestions.
The real changes that he wants to see in Town Meeting are increased involvement and user-friendliness. In addition to the lack of resident participation, he specifically referenced the trouble of asking residents to spend a seven-hour-long meeting inside of a stuffy auditorium (although this year the meeting was outside).
“Something needs to be done in order to make the democratic process more easily accessible,” Peterson said. “People say, ‘There’s got to be a way to make it so that the meeting can be streamlined.’”
He maintains that he’s not against Town Meeting or its process; he just wants to see it refined.
It’s not lost on the moderator that it will take more than the yearly Town Meeting attendees to vote in changes to the meeting.
“You can only improve Town Meeting by a Town Meeting vote,” he said.
The irony of this is that residents who go to Town Meeting already would vote on changes that may not seem necessary, and the ones who need the changes in order to attend may not be able to go in order to vote on them. He knows that this will take more than just getting the suggestions to next year’s Town Meeting; he’s looking to increase engagement and attendance, as well.
People have already been reaching out since his announcement at Town Meeting with their ideas to increase involvement.
His question for those willing to consider change is: “How do we take an institution such as Town Meeting with lackluster attendance, open it up, and make it a more user-friendly environment?”
The response he’s seen suggests that there is already steam behind increasing attendance and user-friendliness. Peterson plans to reach out to residents for ideas starting with a roundtable of sorts for those who are interested in seeing change to Town Meeting.
Anyone with thoughts, ideas, or questions on how to improve Town Meeting can email them to email@example.com.