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DSCN3991Tomorrow 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.

 

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.

A New England town meeting in Huntington, Vermont

A New England town meeting in Huntington, Vermont (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Old Glory, Patriotic Rustic Peeling American F...

Old Glory, Patriotic Rustic Peeling American Flag, The Stars & Stripes, Red, White, Blue, on Wood (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

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.

 

Wallingford town offices

Image via Wikipedia

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.

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Town Meeting Crowd
Image by redjar via Flickr

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!

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Last night we attended our first Town Meeting. I was curious to actually see what I have heard about from so many in action. A group of about 75 or so residents gathered in their Sorels and Muck boots to discuss the budget and various other items on the agenda. I was enthralled to watch so many of these people stand up and speak their mind, garnering ire and admiration from their fellow citizens. The forum is truly unique. People can stand up, announce themselves and speak their mind –and many did — with questions, comments, praise, recognition and suggestions. Not much in the way of outrage or anger, although I heard from more seasoned town meeting goers that those emotions often rear their head also at these meetings.

It was amazing to me how serious these people take this responsibility. When people speak of apathy on the part of the people, they are not speaking of these people. Almost everyone sat with their copy of the Town Report booklet that was mailed to us (we didn\’t bring ours – not really knowing what was protocol for these meetings) and many also had notebooks or at least pen and paper, taking notes of what was being said and by whom. I found it very interesting that people were so serious, so concerned, so involved. I honestly can say that I never attended a mayor and council meeting in NJ, partly out of laziness and partly out of disinterest. I guess I felt that my input if I gave any was purely rhetorical in nature. Here, these people expect that their input will be used and rightfully so– isn\’t that what Town Meeting is all about?

Between last night and this morning pretty much all I did was bake (and of course clean up from baking). The end result 4 loaves of potato bread and three trays of big crumb coffee cake for the bake sale at town meeting tonight.

The first Tuesday in March is Town Meeting Day. It is a Vermont holiday. This is a Vermont tradition that dates back to before Vermont was even a state. The first town meeting was held in Bennington in 1762 – 15 years before Vermont was created.

In the late 1700s, as today, town citizens in Vermont held meetings so that they could address the problems and issues they faced collectively. Popular matters of legislation in earlier town meetings included whether or not to let pigs run free or whether smallpox vaccinations should be allowed in the town (some thought vaccinations were dangerous). Voters also decided what goods or labor could be used as payment for taxes.

Our town meeting is held today and the actual voting occurs on Town Meeting Day or Tuesday, March 2nd by Australian ballot. Fittingly, the meeting is held at the elementary school and is preceded by a bake sale by the school children to raise money for their 6th grade trip. This meeting presents the opportunity for all the residents of a town to gather, as a community, meet each other and discuss the issues that concern us all. Everyone is encouraged to speak their mind. Some towns conduct the meeting, discussion and floor elections all at the same time; while other towns, like ours, have Australian ballot voting on the issues that require a vote.

Before the meeting everyone in town receives the Town Report. This is a booklet which contains all sort of nifty information about what transpired in our town since the last town meeting including the minutes of that meeting. The town meeting is only for registered voters and this will be the first year that Tom and I can attend and voice our opinion if we want. I am excited to attend and witness this piece of history. This is truly different from anything that we had in New Jersey.

Over the past 200 years little has changed about what actually happens at town meeting. The meeting begins with each town electing a moderator who runs the town meeting. The town clerk keeps minutes of the discussion and records the votes.

Every town begins its meetings in its own way.  After the moderator “calls the meeting to order” (by banging the gavel and asking everyone to quiet down so the meeting can start), many towns begin with the Pledge of Allegiance.  Some introduce the selectboard or school board, some thank the volunteers who are providing food or displays at the meeting, some welcome and recognize the oldest or newest members of the community, and some simply get down to the business of the day.

This is yet another example of the sense of community in our little corner of the world.

Quotes and general information are courtesy of the Vermont Secretary of State’s website: http://www.sec.state.vt.us/TownMeeting/index.html

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