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Today was Town Meeting Day, something that I didn’t know even existed until I moved to Vermont. Today is the day that the people of Vermont take democracy into their own hands and move it from some esoteric concept into concrete reality. Town Meeting Day is the day (or the evening before in many towns) when members of the community gather together to discuss and vote on the issues that affect their town and each resident of it personally. The issues usually cover the budget and how it is allocated, taxes and how they are collected, various municipal positions and how they are filled. It is a day to stand up and be heard and be counted. In a great many of New England towns, voting is done by a simple show of hands — not with fancy, computerized voting equipment. Australian ballot voting is done with paper and pen — something alien to someone who grew up with the political machine that churns in the more metropolitan mid Atlantic area of the country.
I remember that at our first town meeting, held in the gymnasium of the town’s elementary school, I pretty much sat there completely dumbfounded at the simplicity of the whole system. The selectboard (which is the governing body of our town) along with an elected moderator, hold a meeting where towns folk vote on the various warnings that have been posted. The steadfast items are usually the budget and other monetary related town issues. People stand up, speak their name and voice their piece of mind on the issue — be it pro or con. Everyone has a right to be heard and speak their mind. Sometimes, there is civil discussion and sometimes, the discussion gets a little heated (that’s where the moderator comes in). After the discussion of each issue, there is a vote. Simple, democracy at its purest.
Tonight I was also able to see the other side of the voting process — the counting of the ballots at town hall following the Australian ballot portion of the election. It is interesting to sit down with fellow residents and count and tally each of the votes — participating at the most fundamental level in one of the greatest privileges we hold as Americans — the right to vote –the right to choose — the right to decide.
If you live in New England and particularly in Vermont, you kind of expect a white Christmas. One of those Norman Rockwell type New England Christmases– and with good reason. According to information gathered from weather records from the period from 1961-1990 there was a very high probability that Vermont would have a white Christmas. The probability for at least 1 inch of snow on the ground for Christmas in Montpelier is 93% — 5 inches is 72% and 10 inches is 41%.
Unfortunately, warm weather last week killed the last of the snow on the ground and weather forecasts are not predicting any significant possibility for snow before Christmas Day.
Christmas magic, perhaps might be the only way to help things out a little.
One of the things that I enjoy about New England is its democracy. It’s pretty neat that people in the town get together once a year at a meeting to talk out and vote on issues that are important to them. It’s nice to see friends and neighbors get recognized for their hard work. It’s interesting when someone stands up at town meeting and asks a question, it’s nice when someone stands up for no other reason thank to draw attention to a job well done by workers in town that we can often take for granted.
Last night we had our town meeting here in Wallingford. It’s always an interesting night, our own peek into the window of democracy and the power of the people wrapped deliciously in the sixth grade’s annual bake sale. All in all it was a relatively quiet town meeting. Not a lot of discussion over anything, different than last year, but still just as interesting.
Today we will vote on several of the warnings that were brought before us last evening. Unlike some other towns where all the voting is done at town meeting, ours is a hybrid. Some things are voted on at town meeting, some are voted for by Australian Ballot at the poles today.
As you decide whether or not your schedule will permit you to vote today and whether you will take the time to make the trip to the polls; take a look at what is going on around the world – people are risking their lives for even the most paltry imitation of the rights that we selfishly take for granted. In deference to the people the world over that are willing at this very moment to give up their lives for what we often don’t consider much at all–get out there and vote today.
Town meeting is a New England tradition. It began in Massachusetts in 1633 and has been held in Vermont since before there was a Vermont. The first meeting in Vermont was held in Bennington in 1762. It is held here in Vermont on the second day of March. Today, March 2nd is Town Meeting Day here in Vermont.
Town meeting is the purest form of democracy since the people directly can influence the way that their government is run and voice their concerns. In our town, the town meeting is held the night before Town Meeting Day, which here in Wallingford is purely election day.
Certain items were voted on directly at Town meeting last night, including the town’s budget for next operating year. Other items, such as the election of members to the selectboard and school board will be voted by Australian Ballot today at Town Hall.
Our boys got their first taste of New England government by attending the meeting with us. All three need the requirement of attending a selectboard or school board meeting for their Boy Scout Eagle Citizenship in the Community requirement. I must say that they were attentive considering it was a dual selectboard-school board meeting and took well over two hours. We pointed the items being discussed (line items in the town’s budget and school budget) to them so they could better understand. The fact that many of people that stood up and voiced their concerns, desires or opinions were familiar faces to the boys. What makes town meeting so interesting to me is that I am always amazed at how serious and concerned the citizens are. No one takes their responsibilities lightly and no questions is too minor to be asked. From increasing our budget by $1000 to mail the town report booklet which we didn’t do this year to adding more monies to the road maintenance budge to fix flooded out roads, everyone got their say.
I hope that my boys understand that what they saw last night was democracy in action, a view that they never would have had if we were still in New Jersey since there is no comparable system in place.
Happy Town Meeting Day!
We have had a winter with not that much snow. In fact, I don’t think that we have had anything that you could really call a storm. Nothing that even bears a resemblance to what our relatives in New Jersey and the rest of the mid Atlantic states have had. Too bad since the snow should be up here where it is appreciated. The words “Winter Storm Warning” or for that matter “Winter Storm Watch” have barely appeared on our weather forecasts this winter. Don’t get me wrong, we have snow, it snows a little here, a little there….but no snow storm. No dumping of snow.
That however “may” change (I hate to type it for fear that the weather, being as fickle as it is to us New Englanders might change once again). Snow is predicted for every day this week starting tonight. Perhaps, just perhaps, the significant snow that they predict for Tuesday night into Wednesday and then again Thursday night into Friday might be a storm – or two of them if we are lucky.
Traditionally a January thaw takes place here in Vermont around the third week in January and usually between the dates of January 23-25th. This is usually noted quite often because it happens right alongside some of the coldest days of the winter. No one knows why it happens and it is commonly referred to as weather lore. Statistically, this time in January records the minimum winter temperatures for the entire winter season. January thaws usually follow an extremely cold snap of weather. No one really knows why it happens when it does, although much research has been done on various theories. Some have attempted to tie the January thaw with various events, such as meteor showers, sun spots, tides, tornados, etc. To date, it appears that no one has come up with any answers.
Today, there is snow on the ground and it is in the 20s. By tonight we will have heavy rains and wind through tomorrow night with temperatures close to 50. Crazy. So much for the cross country skiing for a while. I do hope that the snow doesn’t all disappear though, since winter without snow seems pretty pointless … and rather ugly.
The sign at Town Hall was amusing to say the least. Definitely not high tech. A piece of plywood, about 2×2 painted orange placed on a stake stuck into the ground with the simple words “Vote Today” stenciled on it. The message was clear, but totally plain, simple and not at all fancy – totally New England.
We voted. I am still not used to the whole idea of writing ballots but hey — it’s quaint.
I will be interested in seeing what the results are when they come out. Who won, who lost and since there were a lot of write-ins available for the positions, what neighbor may be the new municipal officer.
We had our friends up this weekend with their daughters. Always a blast, we laughed, we relaxed, just had a really nice time. We took a trip with them to VINS which is the Vermont Institute of Natural Science and has some really cool birds that it rescues and rehabilitates and to the Quechee Gorge, it is called the Grand Canyon of the East. While I have not experienced the Grand Canyon of the West, I have seen pictures and this is beautiful but on a much, much smaller scale in a nice quaint New England sort of way. We had a picnic lunch and then proceeded to hike the 1/2 mile to the bottom (really Lou, the sign says .5 mile). We took a small bathroom detour and my friend Kirby, I and some of the kids wound up hiking more 3/4 of the mile just to get to the bathroom and then we had to basically start the 1/2 mile hike all over again. In any event, it was fun, the kids had a blast swimming at the bottom, the gorge is beautiful and it was fun to explore it again. My boys and I took the hike a couple summers ago. It is easy (except for that uphill part) and pretty neat.