During January and February, auditors, town clerks and treasurers all over Vermont have been busy preparing their town’s annual town report. In the mid-19th century, towns began publishing single sheets, and then gradually moving to modest booklets. The Town Report is mailed, physically distributed, and often available on municipal websites. It typically contains budget and tax information and reports of all the Town and School officers. Read Guildhall’s! Guildhall Vermont Twn Rept 2009
Taxpayer funding for the Guildhall Public Library. The Library has gone a long way this year toward better serving town residents. But will they keep it up?
A proposal to subsidize swimming pool memberships at Colonel Town Recreation Center, in Lancaster, for Guildhall residents. Hmmm. Despite my liberal tendencies, I’m against taxpayer financing of personal recreational interests. What’s next, the Town pays for my yoga classes? Click here to read the warning Guildhall Town Warning 2010
At this year’s Town Meeting, we probably won’t have quite the same divisive feelings, passion, publicity and fireworks that marked last year’s meeting. But some of the same issues and concerns simmer not far beneath the surface. Funding for the Guildhall Public Library is still a sensitive spot. You might remember the bitter battle last year between Article 13 and Article 14. We Article 13ers wanted, in exchange for our tax dollars, a Library that was open more hours and to see a basic financial statement each year. (FYI: in Guildhall, the Library is not owned or controlled by the Town). The Article 14ers, including the Library Trustees themselves, wanted to keep getting taxpayer money, but didn’t want to be told what to do. They said they didn’t want to be open more hours, didn’t want to produce a financial statement, and amazingly, were against any increase in funding–in short, they didn’t want any accountability. Sadly, we lost the floor vote.
But things are not always what they seem. That summer, an article appeared in the local newspaper announcing that the Library was expanding its hours from 3 to 9! They organized a book club. Two events were held, including a slide show by local wildlife photographer Roger Irwin and a presentation by a local physician about his travels in New Zealand. Both were well-attended. I realized that although we had lost the vote that night, we had actually won. It’s a great example of how power and politics work in unexpected ways. The Article #13 campaign had put the Library on notice that they couldn’t take the taxpayers of Guildhall for granted. And so for the first time in over 25 years, they made changes.
That’s why, at this year’s budget meeting, I and others argued for keeping the Library funding on the Town warning, rather than just burying it back into budgeted appropriations. As long as that Library funding is named specifically on the Town Meeting warning, the Trustees know that they have to work for their money. Funny how change comes about, isn’t it?
At this year’s meeting, expect people to be asking the Library hard questions, such as: do you plan to continue the expanded hours? What happened to the Saturday hours? (those were instituted last summer but have vanished this winter) What events are you planning? Also on the warning is an article that would require all independent organizations that receive town money to produce a financial statement as a condition of receiving those funds. If that passes, the Library will have to produce that document–like it or not– or risk their funding.
Other drama? The only contested race is the one that’s just now heating up: for Town Auditor! It’s George Blakeslee, whom I support enthusiastically, vs. Dawn Rogers.
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!