March 6, 2012

Town Meeting Day

It's the first Tuesday in March, which means it is Town Meeting Day in Vermont. In my small town we meet at 10AM in the community building to elect town officers, discuss town business, and vote on the budget (and visit with our neighbors). It is the essence of democracy at its bedrock level, citizens coming together to discuss their town's future. It is an ordinary task, but truly extraordinary in its implications.

We meet in a room that many years ago was the school gym, newly fitted out with energy efficient lighting. Before the official start of the meeting, our State Representative, Chip Conquest, gives us an overview of the legislative session.

Along the east wall, various groups set up displays, such as this from the library, with newly acquired books and upcoming events.

The girl scouts have brought cookies, and there are other goodies from homemade whoopie pies to chili for hungry attendees.

Each year I look forward to my morning coffee with a donut made by the talented Bing Page. Yum!

A few weeks before the meeting, we receive the town report, which includes the budget figures, lists of town officers and reports from various committees and organizations in the town. It is their opportunity to tell us what they've been doing for the past year and what they hope to accomplish in the next. We can look it over and come to the meeting with any questions we might have. The page I've shown above has the first few articles we'll be voting on during the meeting.

Article 1 is always to elect a moderator, without whom the meeting cannot go forward. We've been very lucky in our moderators, who are crisp and clear and fair and well versed in the rules, essential for an orderly meeting. Our current moderator, who does a great job, is Wayne Dyer. 

Citizens get to ask questions and town officers spend time answering as many as come up. Our Road Commissioner, Brent Smith, who wears several hats in town, including Emergency Management Coordinator, has to give lengthy explanations of a proposed new bridge and a repeating station for emergency communications.  When everything is discussed to our satisfaction, we vote, usually by voice. Something that seems a little close goes to a show of hands. If that seems close, we have paper ballots; they are handed out, we write our choice and place it in a box. The votes are then tallied by a town officer. This year we were in accord, and everything passed by ayes. 

Here are our charming voting booths, for Australian ballot questions, such as the school budget, and for state and national elections. Note the small American flag motif on the curtains. I walk into the booth with my paper ballots where there is a writing shelf, pencils at the ready. I mark the ballots and then drop them into the proper boxes; happily everything is color-coded: purple for school budget, white for Presidential primary etc. At the end of this meeting, I leave the community building feeling very happy and deeply touched by our exercise of democracy.


  1. What's also striking is that they allow you to take photographs in there! I can't see that happening in this area (Northern Virginia.)

    1. It's a public meeting, Amy, so I can't imagine not being allowed to photograph there. The press is allowed, of course, so why not ordinary citizens. I asked permission of the girl scouts before I shot their photo.

  2. You are really lucky to have all these issues presented in such a direct and personal way. I realize it is something that can only happen in a small community, but it seems so much more real and honest and proper than the way things are done elsewhere. And I say that coming from a pretty open, honest and workable city!