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Getting Ready for Town Meeting

01/29/08 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) Even though Town Meeting Day is still weeks away, most Town Reports are on their way to the printers. Commentator Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature in libraries, hospitals and prisons throughout Vermont. She'll also be serving as School Moderator in Newfane this year. And she thinks it's not too soon to prepare ourselves for the first Tuesday in March.

(LUSKIN) It's still only January, but I'm already thinking about Town Meeting.

Of course, there are those who've been thinking about Town Meeting Day since they were elected last March. In my town of about sixteen hundred people, more than thirty serve in Town Government. That's more than thirty people who devote at least one Thursday night a month to a civic meeting, and many of them devote many, many, more.

They don't get much in return for their work - a few dollars an hour, an earful of grief, and reams of dry prose to read on the subjects of bridges, buildings and budgets.

Personally, I'm grateful to these stewards of the public trust, so it seems the least I can do to support their hard work is to show up at Town Meeting and vote.

But I don't go to Town Meeting just to vote. I go to Town Meeting because it's my civic duty, just as it's been the duty of all those who have lived here since Newfane was chartered in 1774.

I've chosen to live in Vermont not only for the beautiful scenery but also for the community that small town life affords. Town Meeting is a significant part of that community, but for a variety of reasons, Town Meeting is said to be in decline.

In their book, "All Those In Favor: Rediscovering The Secrets Of Town Meeting And Community", Susan Clark and Frank Bryan suggest that while endangered, Vermont's Town Meeting can be rescued - not for nostalgic reasons, but for vital ones of community and self-governance.

According to Clark and Bryan, three factors weakened our meetings: the adoption of Australian Balloting, the increasing population of Vermont towns, and the reduced number of binding decisions voters can decide.

They also provide clear prescriptions about what we can do, individually and collectively, to improve Town Meeting, so that we leave the next generation a vibrant forum.

First, if you're eligible to vote, be sure you're registered. Second, plan now to attend your town's meeting. Most meetings will take place on March fourth, but times and places vary, so check with your town clerk, and then arrange to be there, even if it means missing work. Third, read your town report when it's published. Attend public information meetings. Ask questions. Talk to your neighbors and elected officials (often one and the same). And finally, I would add - if nothing else - thank those neighborly elected officials who've devoted so many of their weekday evenings for our public good.

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