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Tomorrow is Town Meeting Day across Vermont. Tonight was Town Meeting in Wallingford. Democracy at its finest. If you’re not from New England and have never been to town meeting, I strongly suggest that it be a reason for visiting during the midmost of mud season. Tom really wanted to bring popcorn but he held back. Honestly, depending on your town, it can be that good. 🙂
The first Tuesday in March is a state holiday, Town Meeting Day. While some towns in Vermont vote all or a part of their town meetings through Australian ballot, there is no legal requirement to do so and in fact, there are still some towns that do all their voting from the “floor” a town meeting. For instance, tonight herein Wallingford, there was actually a motion from the floor to increase our town’s budget and therefore the town’s taxes from the floor by a fellow citizen. Where else does one person just raise their hand, stand up, state their name and make a motion to increase the town’s taxes? Not in New Jersey, that’s for sure. The vote because it passed, required the moderator to do some math on the fly to revise the following article to reflect the new budget amount when the same group of town residents voted on the town budget.
The issues run the gamut as stated by the Burlington Free Press from whether or not to purchase a new truck in the town to impeaching the president. I remember our first town meeting, we showed up wide eyed and amazed at this wonderful New England tradition. Here in Vermont, the farmer down the road, the local elementary school teacher or the 18-year-old college student can stand up, raise his or her voice and change the whole budget for the town or persuade the town to support a cause or convince them to pull support for a cause or a budget item. Amazing, still after ten years.
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!