Gathering to listen

03/08/2007
It is unlikely things that pique the interest and ire of voters and elicit long and passionate debate at Town Meetings.  Consider the things that got local voters riled up and passionate this year.

In Fayston, voters spent an hour discussing the allotment of $8,000 for contracting for traffic enforcement from the Washington County Sheriff's department. It was not the money but the efficacy of using that money on traffic patrol when property crimes are on the rise.

Warren voters spent a fair amount of time on whether the town arts and recreation commission needed its annual allotment of $2,500. A move to offer the commission more was met with a refusal to accept more funds by the arts and rec commission chair and voters moved on to approve the request.

For Waitsfield voters, a discussion of whether the select board exceeded the authority granted to it at last year's Town Meeting to spend up to $35,000 on an emergency generator for the Waitsfield School was a hot topic. It was not the generator that got folks riled up but a plan to wire it to the school, the health center, the Wait House and the fire station. The question for many voters was whether the select board was acting in good faith by doing what its members felt was best for the town--as they are elected to do--or whether wiring up the other buildings was exceeding what voters approved last year.

Moretown voters spent a fair amount of time venting their frustration over their town report and ultimately voted to reject it, an action that has no binding consequences other than to measure their dissatisfaction. They spent a good amount of time at pre-Town Meeting hashing over whether their $320,000 in fees from the Moretown Land Fill should be used to offset general town expenses or used for special events.

These are small things, minutia to some, but important enough for folks to attend, to raise their hands, come forward to the microphone and address their fellow residents. It's the gathering to listen and speak that is as important as the doing of the town's business.

People are increasingly isolated from each other and from their communities. Coming together for one day in March to discuss (overtly) town budgets is a great way to connect with the people in the community, using town finances as a vehicle to remember that we are connected and we have more in common than we don't--regardless of where we stand on any particular Town Meeting issue.

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