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Robert's other rules

03/06/07 12:00AM By Linda DuCharme
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(HOST) As commentator Linda DuCharme prepares for her town meeting, she's reviewing the UN-written rules of town meeting etiquette - ones that you'll never find in Robert's Rules of Order.

(DUCHARME) As my husband and I set out for our first town meeting the year we moved here, I felt that, as a former resident
of the state, it was my duty to let him know the rules. I had grown
up in the Northeast Kingdom and understood how things are done;
he was from south of here.

I remember town meetings as a time when we kids would sneak up onto the balcony of the town hall where we were persistently hushed for being the annoying children that we were. We never paid attention to the important business that was taking place.
It was an adult activity and held absolutely no interest for us.

Fast forward many, many years. Now I'm a taxpayer and I'm very interested. It's my money they're talking about.

The rules, I told my husband, revolve around the etiquette of offering any opinions for our neighbors to ponder. I informed him
he may not speak at town meeting at all for at least three years. Then, when he did, he could only say positive things like. "Let's hear a round of applause for Archie who did such a fine job keeping our roads clear this winter." I told him that if no one rolls his eyes or lets out an exasperated groan, he may offer another very short opinion, but no more than two the first time. If a voice vote comes up, he should show dignified respect for both sides
of the issue by not offering his vote too loudly.

Always applaud anything that supports the fire department, I told him.

During the break, he may individually compliment the moderator as well as the gang that provides the chili and brownies. If there is a screaming baby in the back of the room, a modified glare is OK, but only once.

Don't be a flatlander.

Avoid showing support for issues that indicate change of any kind. Beware of motions that promote a more efficient way of doing things, especially anything that smacks of attempts to sneak in urban life styles. Quietly remind those sitting near you that we all moved up here to get away from the big city. We don't want to recreate all that we so happily left behind, do we.

Town meeting attire should be moderate. The weather will most likely be sloppy, so casual, but neat, is the standard. T-shirts expressing support of local fundraisers offer a nice touch.

If anything dealing with national politics enters the discussion, my advice is to lay low unless you're willing to follow through with it. And remember, the media loves to cover all that which makes Vermonters look quaint. They still see us as the extended cast
of the Bob Newhart show. They are, of course, just jealous.

And when my husband gets older, many years from now, his perfect attendance at town meeting over the past years will grant him the right to stand at the back of the room with others his age - and grumble.

Linda DuCharme is a retired assistant managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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