In less than three weeks, the chairs will be set up in rows. Tables will grace the front of the stage. The Town Clerk will place Robert’s Rules of Order, Title 17 of the Vermont Statutes Annotated, the 2009 Town Warning, a gavel and a glass of water on the Moderator’s podium.
Allen Hodgdon, our beloved moderator, will open the meeting with his usual inspiring instructions to voters–he’ll explain that participants in the meeting must speak and listen in good faith, and while they may disagree vigorously, they may not question one another’s motives.
Most debate this year will center on financial support for the Guildhall Public Library. Our beloved, beautiful Library has been languishing badly in recent years: one Article on the warrant, crafted and recommended by the Selectboard, increases the funding but makes it contingent upon the Library being open for more hours and providing more services. A competing Article, put on the Warning by petition, just asks the voters to give the old sum of money with no conditions. Myself, I vote yes on Article 13, financial support, but only under certain conditions! Barack Obama-style, I want change. A real library for our town!
Prior to the meeting, we in Guildhall will vote by Australian ballot for our Town Officers. This year, there are four hotly contested races at Town Meeting, for Selectboard Member (incumbent Susan McVetty v. Thomas Dubreiul), Constable (incumbent Bob MacIlvane v. Daniel Mowery), Delinquent Tax Collector (incumbent Alfred McVetty, Sr v. Phil Nelson), and School Board Member (with an incumbent and last I heard on the grapevine, multiple challengers!) (School Board is actually voted from the floor in the evening!) Campaign letters are already flying fast and furious and soon I expect the barrage of personal phone calling and visiting to commence. Politics in my little rural town, in its own way, is so much more relevant and up-close than it ever was living in Boston!
Many, if not most Vermont towns, have sadly eliminated the discussion and debate part of Town Meeting. In those towns, although it’s still called Town Meeting, there is no actual meeting for debate and moderated discussion–all questions, including warned articles and the budget, are voted in private booths, over the course of the day, on paper ballots. While this makes it slightly more convenient for some people to vote, at what cost? When voters decide ballot questions and budgets in a voting booth, they lose the opportunity and the responsibility of hearing the debate and engaging with fellow citizens on the issues. More concretely, they cannot amend an Article from the floor! I hope our Town never goes down that “easy way out” path. As a matter of fact, this year, we have an article on the warning in which the voters are asked to decide whether they want to return the election of Town Officers to open voice or floor vote in the evening meeting! Let’s have the courage of our convictions!
I get a shiver down my spine at the opening of every Town Meeting, as I ponder the generations of people who have sat in this very room since 1764, voting on the things that matter to them!