Following on the heels of the recent Town Meeting and comments made therein and further, in the Manchester Journal, I'd like to make a few suggestions for consideration to improve a) the attendance at future meetings, b) the participation of those in attendance and c) the enjoyment of all. First, like one speaker at the recent meeting, we moved to Vermont in 1999 after living in many different states and overseas. I was awed by the entire "town meeting" concept and the active democracy that was evident. Anything even close to this process did not exist elsewhere. It is a precious event that should be retained and enhanced and not allowed to "die out."
My suggestions are:
1) Rent an adequate audio system; one that comes with technical expertise to install and monitor the sound throughout the room and quickly correct any deficiencies that occur. Buying is an option, but the expertise during the meeting is equally important. Nothing is more frustrating than spending all day unable to hear the proceedings.
2) Modify the use of Robert's Rules of Order. The intent of the meeting is to have an open and efficient discussion among all parties. While discussion must be controlled tightly, the strict following of Robert's Rules puts a straitjacket on the discussion, diminishes citizen interaction and stretches out the time element. Besides, it's quite painful to watch the moderator (who does a great and thankless job) get wound up in his underwear attempting to repeat in "legalize" all amendments and procedures. Town Meeting is a legal process but for fruitful deliberation, we need to be far more casual than the lawyers may wish or require.
3) Arrange articles in descending order of importance and priority. This was finally corrected by a procedural vote; nonetheless, the library issue was of such great significance and magnitude that it demanded everyone's alertness, attention and participation. Yet, it was #25 - when almost all townspeople would have been home in bed! "Rubber stamp" issues can be left to the last.
4) Modify paper ballot process. These should be used only when the voice and count outcomes are doubtful. More people than six or eight should be required in order to demand this procedure. More machines could be available for counting and ballots could be available beforehand. Perhaps there is better technology available to utilize, e.g., buttons as used in game shows! It took over 40 minutes for one ballot, during which time the momentum and interest in the remainder of the meeting was lost. You might as well just have an Australian ballot!
5) Make this day a State Holiday, as was suggested. Obviously, this is beyond the scope of the Select Board but our representatives to Montpelier could be pushing this idea. It wouldn't get everyone in attendance, but perhaps a larger percentage of voters.
6) Find a more comfortable location, with better seating arrangements. Perhaps the new library will be available by next year, with adequate space to fit all? Certainly, the gym is awful for this meeting.
I realize these suggestions may be a challenge to implement, but Town Meeting is certainly a democratic process that deserves to be retained and enhanced. Left to continue as is, it becomes more of a joke and a complete waste of time. That should not be!
Charles (Chic) Murphy