By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Outdoors in the dark

Middleborough officials have decided to keep the media far, far away from tomorrow’s fiasco of a town meeting, which is expected to draw as many as 10,000 people to the high school. Here is the complete text of a media advisory issued yesterday by the Middleborough Police Department:

MEDIA ADVISORY:

July 26, 2007

CONTACT:

Middleborough Police Department

Attn: Lt. David Mackiewicz

Fax Number: (508) 947-1009

Middleborough Special Town Meeting – Casino Decision

On, Saturday July 28, 2007 at 11:00 a.m. the town of Middleborough will be conducting a Special Town Meeting at the Middleborough High School at 71 East Grove Street in Middleborough (Route 28). The purpose of the meeting is to determine the residents’ position regarding the recently negotiated Wampanoag Casino agreement.

To ensure the event receives proper media coverage and only registered voters are allowed to vote specific control measures will be in effect for all media outlets attending the event.

Press Rules

1. Venue: The Town of Middleborough will be conducting a Special Town Meeting for the purpose of deciding the residents’ position regarding the recently negotiated Wampanoag Casino agreement.

2. The meeting will occur at the Middleborough High School on Rt. 28, at 71 East Gove Street, Middleborough, Ma.

3. The meeting area will be restricted to only Middleborough registered voters. Invited guests will be authorized only as specified by the Town Moderator.

4. Media personnel will be authorized access to view the event from a designated media area.

5. Application for Media Parking Passes: Fax all requests for media vehicle parking passes to the Middleborough Police Department, 508-947-1009, Attn: Lt. David Mackiewicz NOT LATER THAN 3:00 PM on FRIDAY, July 27, 2007. Space is limited and Media Parking Passes will be limited to two passes per media outlet. Media Parking Passes will be returned by fax to your media outlet and must be presented to gain access to the designated media area.

6. Media will be required to arrive between 06:00 AM and 07:30 AM on Saturday, July 28, 2007. No new media personnel will be allowed entrance after 7:30 AM on Saturday, July 28.

7. Voting residents will begin arriving at 08:00 AM. Media will be allowed an interview area where they can conduct interviews with voting residents inside the designated media area between 08:00 AM and the start of the meeting. The meeting will begin at 11:00 AM.

8. A MALT box [“a piece of equipment that allows reporters to plug in audio equipment to record directly from the sound system”] will be available in the designated media area for media use.

9. Media will not be allowed to leave the designated media area until the meeting is adjourned.

This is going to be a zoo (albeit an unnecessary zoo, and one of town officials’ devising), and obviously some measures are needed to keep things under control. But these restrictions are so tight that you have to wonder if reporters are going to be able to tell what’s going on, or will instead have to try to reconstruct events after the fact.

Will the sound system truly be audible? Will speakers from the floor (excuse me, the grass) be properly patched in to the sound system? Will some provision be made to identify speakers (a notorious problem in covering any town meeting)? Why on earth do all reporters — even lowly print reporters carrying nothing but a pen and a notebook — have to arrive by 7:30 a.m. if the meeting doesn’t start for another three and a half hours? What is #9 about? Surely folks can leave, can’t they? What about a photographer with an early deadline?

For that matter, why does Middleborough need more security than the Democratic and Republican national conventions?

Meanwhile, in today’s Globe, Sean Murphy and Christine Wallgren report that town officials’ dreams of $4 million a year in hotel-tax revenue are just that — dreams. And here is the text (PDF) of the study-committee report the Herald mentioned yesterday — the one that found suicide rates will increase, but, overall, the casino will be a good thing. You can’t make this stuff up.

Finally, NECN has posted the video of our discussion on “NewsNight” last night.


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9 Comments

  1. jvwalt

    This is even tighter than national-convention standard; this is George W-era Presidential-appearance tight. Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising if Middleborough got these rules straight from the Secret Service. I suspect two factors are at work here: — First and foremost, they fear this meeting will turn into a full-fledged fiasco, and they want to minimize coverage. — Second, a full-blown case of inflated self-importance on the part of officials in a town that’s usually off the media radar.

  2. Steve

    In every town meeting I’ve been to (never to one this large and never to one outdoors, I admit), the primary concern of the organizers has to be that everyone eligible to vote can vote, and everyone who is not eligible to vote cannot vote. Secondary to that, that everyone who is eligible to vote can speak and everyone who is not eligible to vote cannot speak (unless its agreed to by the meeting). This means tightly controlling access to the meeting venue.Town meetings (especially sizable ones) often are “zoos”, but they are not “unnecessary”. Things must be decided, and this is the way we do it in most small towns here.I assume the school has an adequate sound system for outdoor events (football games, graduations) approaching this size.I hope that speakers will have to identify themselves at the beginning of their comments. In our town meeting (Acton), you must state your name and address before offering your comments.This meeting is NOT like a political convention, nor should it be. Conventions are media and public relations events and the press has a much more central role. Town meetings are for the attendees first, and only secondarily for the press.The parking passes thing I can understand.The other press rules seem a bit excessive. Maybe the early arrival time is to allow the press to get settled in and connected to whatever hookups they need. As an occasional sound engineer I am skeptical that the MALT box thing is going to go smoothly.And what’s up with #9? Can’t help you there, it seems very odd.I wonder whether provisions are going to be made for advocacy groups who are not town residents? I expect this is going to draw more than a few outsiders holding signs and making noise.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Clarification – what’s unnecessary about this town meeting is the rush to hold it now, just days after the agreement was made public, at a time when many people are away.

  4. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – further clarification: down here south of Boston, people are away in the WINTER, usually in Jupiter or Sarasota. THIS is when they are home, running the restaurant that lets them stay away from the snow.Tribal customs – ya gotta love ’em!(LOVE the new icon!)

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Yes, I’ve been Simpsonized, thanks to Brett Rhyne of Salem State College. Pretty close, I’d say.

  6. Anonymous

    As a long-suffering reporter who’s covered more Town Meetings than I care to remember, my guess on #9 is that they don’t want journalists to disrupt the proceedings by chasing after people who make interesting comments at the mike. Sound likely?

  7. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    It’s good that the meeting is limited to registered voters, because those who are so uninvolved that they don’t bother to vote, probably think they can actually win at gambling.

  8. Rick in Duxbury

    Dan,I have indeed lived a long life. You and Joe Fitzgerald on the same side of an issue, amazing.

  9. Man who hates casinos

    It appears Middleboro is also making sure senior citizens stay far, far away from the voting as well…especially since they’re probably more likely, as a whole, to vote “no”.Here’s the Globe article.Like everything else with casino gambling, the fix is in. [snorts disgustedly]

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