Town Meeting

The first week of March is almost here, and in Vermont, that means two things: It's time to start tapping maple trees and harvesting their sap, and it's time for Town Meeting.

Town Meeting is about as close as we can get to pure direct democracy. In the not-too-distant future, we may see the emergence of virtual town meetings conducted electronically where we all sit around in our living rooms and swipe left or right for yeas or nays via handheld portable devices. There's something to be said for that vision - presumably people could tune in and get updates and hear the pros and cons and "vote" at times of their choosing. What is lost, of course, is the social interaction and the community-building that goes with an actual gathering of townspeople in one room who have to be good neighbors for a couple of hours. Or four or five, depending on how long the warned special articles are.

As we noted in a recent editorial a few weeks ago, Town Meeting is getting harder to sustain in these times, and every year voices are raised to urge making most, if not all monetary appropriations decided by Australian, or paper ballot, so more voters could take part. While we understand that point of view, it was be a real loss for town meeting to become solely a discussion forum, with the actual decisions made at the ballot box. No harm in electing officials to the school or select board that way, but decisions like spending $198,000 to support the town library, or to budget $200,000 for the construction of a new salt shed to store the town's supply of road salt, are decisions best made off the floor, following a discussion of the pros and cons.

Town Meeting is one of the few times all year when residents and taxpayers are asked to forego a couple of hours of their time to weigh in on the issues of the day and obtain answers from their elected or appointed officials. Those answers could be obtained in other ways, of course - emails, phone calls, chance encounters at the grocery store or by attending one of the public meetings of the school or select board. But there's something about the atmosphere and dynamism of Town Meeting that makes it special.

Town Meeting is one of the few instances of grassroots democracy we have left amid the evolution of the political process. We hope all of you will plan to attend the meeting in your town, and take part in it. If you have questions about the where and when, they should be answered in the listing below, or call your town clerk's, or go online to your town's website. Each meeting will have some topic of interest that will affect your day-to-day life. Then, we can plan to harvest some sap from the maple trees. It's March, and spring can't be too far behind. After this winter, that will be welcome.


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