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"I'm not dead yet" is one of the best known lines from Monty Python's comedy The Holy Grail which is uttered as victims of the plague are being carted out of a medieval village.
And this week gave notice that Town Meeting is not dead yet either. Voters were fired up this year. Fired up about issues, fired up about budgets, fired up about elections, fired up about the whole process of how we govern ourselves.
It was an awesome spectacle. When people are sincerely engaged and feel very strongly about issues they wear their hearts on their sleeves. They wear their love for their town and their community on their sleeves.
Even more exciting is that people are respectful and polite to each other. People with very different opinions, whether it is on tax due dates, sidewalks, underground power or which roads to repair, might be neighbors. They might sit next to each other at Town Meeting luncheon. They retain what the rest of the country and certainly Washington, D.C., has lost –the ability to disagree and be civil about it.
In Waitsfield there were several attempts to add a large sum of money to a $75,000 article for repairs to Bridge Street and the covered bridge so that utilities could go underground. People were very engaged and very passionate and when the second attempt to add money to that article failed, people moved on to the next article.
In Moretown, where Town Meeting has been emasculated by voting all items over $5,000 by Australian ballot, a perfunctory Town Meeting Day heated up when under the last article "other business" voters began discussing how to increase participation and got pumped up about reverting to floor votes. That caused voters to call for their select board to have a binding article next year that would make that so.
Town Meeting is not dead. It is not a failed concept, but it could be tweaked so that more people can participate. Making Town Meeting a state holiday would be a great start. If not that, then holding Town Meeting on a weekend would allow more people to attend.
The participatory citizen legislators that Town Meeting creates is unique and worth strengthening rather than carrying out on the corpse cart.