Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Town Meeting Observations

A few observations on our recent town meeting:

This was a big meeting. Very important. Literally millions of dollars on the line. The first warrant article took from 9:00 to 1:00 to debate and vote. It was a bond issue for $1.8 million for the construction of a much needed Municipal building. The bond issue was crushingly defeated by a vote of 79 yes to 289 opposed (approximately – I’m sketching from memory here).

It’s not that the buildings aren’t needed. They are. There are three obstacles I see

People are just in NO MOOD to spend money.

We are also facing a bond issue for a new school coming this Saturday at the annual school board meeting. This one is for some $3.3 million.

We have a weird situation with the fire department in this town. It really is too complicated to explain in detail. Suffice it to say that the FD is actually an independent not for profit org that owns the buildings and equipment, although said buildings and equipment are supplied and paid for by the town. Turns out this arrangement is not completely legal. The legal issues involved however, have created a significant level of rancor and distrust among certain factions. Until this situation is rectified and the parties figure out exactly WHO runs the FD, I think the people are not anxious to put money into municipal buildings.

Did I mention that people are in NO MOOD to spend money? A friend of mine put it this way. “I want all of it. But if I vote it all in, I’ll have to work three extra weeks a year to pay for it. I just can’t do that.” He was referring to the fact that we can look at the budget and the bond issues and calculate our property tax increase accordingly. It’s a pretty direct effect. And it makes me aware that when I vote for these things, I am obligating my neighbors as much as myself. On the other hand (particularly when it comes to the school) if I vote against it, I’m may be putting an obstacle in the path of the education for my neighbor’s kids. Since we currently home school, the educational effect is not direct, but the tax bite is. And we may not always home school. It’s a complicated decision.

There were 32 warrant articles. The meeting ran until 5:00 p.m. The Moderator, Bill Gosse, is my hero. Every year I watch him run this meeting with authority, humor and a certain style that is amazing to watch. I have on several occasion complimented him on his skill, and he seems to think that it is nothing much. I know how hard it is to ride heard on a meeting like this as I have had to do it on a smaller scale. The man deserves a medal.

A significant percentage of votes had to go to hand votes because the voice votes were so close. Several times, the hand count registered a big difference that was not apparent at the voice vote. We were admonished by the moderator to speak up. In one specific case, I failed to stand to ask a question of the meeting and regretted that I did not. I think the answer to my question might have turned the vote. It is the habit of a certain group of NO sayers to virtually shout their no vote in a attempt to make their votes seem more than they might actually be. This is a respectable tactic, and I started to learn to use it myself. By gory, if your going to vote, speak up!

The townspeople tend to view every thing recommended by the Selectmen with suspicion, as if these guys are just trying to put something over on the town. The Selectmen, on the other hand, finished the meeting incredibly frustrated by the response of the town to their recommendations. I made a point afterwards of speaking to each Selectmen to thank them for their service. There were several that I definitely did not vote for, but I believe that they have worked very hard for years, and deserved some thanks for it. I believe any differences were largely differences of means, not motives.

There was much more, but I don’t really have time to write everything I observed. Mostly, I just feel privileged to have been part of that process. I’m not sure if our decisions were all for the best. It’s entirely likely that several were not. Nevertheless, there is this feeling that I was part of what our founding fathers fought for – self government, self determination of the community. It was a good day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I try to vote 'No' as often as I can.