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Delaney: Sidewalk Debate

03/05/12 7:55AM By Dennis Delaney
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(Host) Commentator Dennis Delaney is a former Republican State Senator. And he's looking forward to what he expects will be a passionate debate at Charlotte's town meeting this year.

(Delaney) Town meeting has now slipped into the forefront of Vermonters' thoughts. Our debates on local issues, and occasionally some that go beyond the local, will soon take place in town halls and school gyms across the state. Mighty or modest as the arguments may be, they're the simple yet powerful dynamic of a free people gathering and deciding.

And sometimes the debates truly do transcend the mundane. I'll never forget a town meeting some 30 years ago, when my little town of Charlotte had an advisory item on the warning seeking citizen support for a nuclear freeze. Those were Cold War days and the descriptive acronym was MAD - mutually assured destruction. In addition to Charlotte many other towns and villages had the same item up for debate.

Although at the time Charlotte was still a decidedly Republican town, the vote was lopsidedly in favor of the resolution. In most other towns and villages the result was the same. The message from Vermont to the country and the world was: Stop the madness. It was thrilling to be a Vermonter at town meeting that year.

This year however, the coin of debate has flipped to the side of the very local. For us the current hot debate is not about Armageddon, but the proposed construction of a short span of sidewalk, not more than a few hundred meters long, in the west village.

I think it's to our town's credit that the selectboard and other leaders have decided to forgo any available federal or state help. Projects like sidewalks offer the perfect excuse to apply for a government grant. But the money comes with serious strings attached in the form of endless regulations. No thanks.

It's not hard to imagine how the debate will go this town meeting day because the script has already been written and vetted at past selectboard meetings and even at a previous town meeting where it received scant support. The arguments will be the same: modern Charlotters who cherish all things "safety" will be pitted against traditional folk who will say that we don't need a sidewalk, never had one, and that we don't need to further burden the tax rate in order to buy one and then pay the
maintenance.

While I can't predict the outcome I can tell you that the sidewalk's passionate opponents have already won a few rounds. The selectboard wanted to slip the cost into the budget as a line item. No, said the opponents. We want a separate item on the warning. A compromise was proposed and it too was argued down. The opponents now have a separate item on the warning. It will be debated and voted upon as such. Stay tuned.

I look forward to town meeting. Free people in a small Vermont town will argue vigorously about what matters most to them. Then they will go home again - friends and neighbors still.
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