and I got up early today and were out the door by 7 am in order to hurry down to the local middle school to cast our votes for our town selectboard.
Today is Town Meeting Day. In Vermont, Town Meeting Day is a semi-holy institution in which, hypothetically, everyone puts down what they're doing and comes and gathers at the local school or town hall on a late-winter Tuesday morning to discuss the town budget and vote on town officers... although to hear folks talk, just as many people come for the post-meeting potluck and socializing. While some items are discussed and voted on right there at the meeting by whichever town voters show up, other items are voted on via Australian ballot in polling that's open from 7 am to 7 pm.
I've actually only attended Town Meeting once
since moving to Richmond, Vermont in 2002 and didn't get up to speak. I love democracy and all that, but... well, let me explain.
The year I went, Town Meeting consisted of the members of the selectboard and school board answering questions about the town budget ... and then sitting back and listening to town residents making motions to strike items from the budget and advancing various theories about the incompetence or allegedly criminal nature of various town officers and school board members.
Not everyone who spoke was a crank. Some people had reasonable things to say. But there was also a LOT of stuff said that made you wonder what color the sky was on the speaker's home planet.
The meeting would have lasted for about an hour, to be honest, if it weren't for all the people making motions to strike line items from the town budget. Over and over again, the moderator had to explain that while a motion to reduce the overall
budget by some amount was certainly in order, a motion could not
explicitly strike a single budget item. People absolutely did not
For example, if you thought $45,000 to buy a new pickup truck for the town highway department was extravagant, you could certainly make a motion to reduce the town budget by $45,000 but you couldn't
control where the town selectboard subtracted the money. They could still buy the pickup truck and reduce spending in other areas by $45,000 in order to bring things in line with the overall approved amount.
I suspect this rule is there so people won't hamstring the functioning of town government by, for example, voting to strike the money used to pay for electricity in town offices. And before you ask, "why would they do that
?" consider who actually has time to attend town meeting: it's not
busy professionals. It's self-employed people, small business owners who close up for the day, unemployed people, moms, retired people, and, well, outright cranks and weirdos. You never know
what you're going to get.
The town board and the school board hold public forums in the weeks prior to town meeting to offer residents an opportunity to make their feelings known and to ask questions, but most years they're lightly attended at best. I suspect that a lot of people don't actually care
about specifics -- they just get their rocks off showing up at Town Meeting and offering angry theories about extravagance and waste and offering motions that will "solve everything".
As the official meeting notice
explains, today's Richmond Town Meeting has various agenda items to cover: a school budget, a town budget, a school bond issue, and a town road repair item. Thank God the school budget and town road repair item are voted on during all-day voting via Australian ballot. I just wish the town budget was as well. It's not that I'm anti-democracy; it's that there's undeniably a weird urge in some people to break things that don't need fixing. You haven't lived until you've watched a Town Meeting attempt to reduce a budget for a program below a state-mandated amount, just because
But again, I'm skipping all that; I've got be at work. I did
make sure to hustle down to the school this morning almost as soon as they opened for the specific reason of casting a vote against
a specific member of our town Selectboard who's running for re-election. Every town has its share of angry cranks -- we just happen to have one who's actually on the Selectboard and has basically managed to poison half the Selectboard meetings with angry wranglings with the town officers and other members of the Selectboard. I could say a lot
more about this person -- and probably get sued for libel in the process -- but I'm not going to. Just suffice it to say that I'm keeping my fingers crossed that our local millstone is gone from our necks after today.