Town Meeting Continues To Thrive In West Windsor

03/02/10 5:50PM By Betty Smith-Mastaler
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VPR/Betty Smith
Matt Birmingham outside Story Memorial Hall.

(Host) Business was brisk at West Windsor's town meeting today and concluded before noon.

VPR has been visiting West Windsor for the past several years to keep track of how the traditional town meeting is adapting to the twenty first century. 

And if today is any indication, the town meeting is thriving, at least in West Windsor.

VPR's Betty Smith has more.

(Smith) In the first place, attendance was good. For a town of about a thousand people, a turnout of roughly 150 people is pretty respectable. Town moderator Matt Birmingham delayed starting the meeting until a few minutes past 9, in order to allow the people still coming in the door to be seated. Then he called the meeting to order.

(Birmingham) raps gavel

(Smith) Without much debate, town officials were elected. Tax issues were resolved. And the school and town budgets were approved. Explanations of the various agenda items was succinct. And there was a short presentation by 5th and 6th graders from the nearby Albert Bridge School about prehistoric cave painting.

(Student talking about editing the project)

(Smith) The only article to kindle much debate had to do with whether to exempt alternative energy projects from property taxes. Solar and other alternative generators aren't taxed now. But advocates say West Windsor should be prepared. The proposal raised some fairly complex legal questions, but eventually it, too, passed on an uncontested voice vote.

There was still time to hear brief updates from State Representative Steve Adams and State Senator Alice Nitka.

All this, and adjournment in time to stop next door for soup, sandwiches and pie.

This year's town meeting in West Windsor was a good natured, efficient model of how to conduct a small town's business. And according to moderator Birmingham...

(Birmingham) There's a trick to it...    

(Smith) Birmingham ought to know. He's been moderating town meeting in West Windsor for the last twenty years. He was nervous at first, expecting some of the more seasoned town meeting veterans to give him a hard time. But they were kind and he was hooked. It's an institution he loves.

(Birmingham) I am, and this is from the heart, I'm stunned, at how elegant this process is. And I have the best seat in the house. I get to stand up there and watch these people go back and forth through the issues that affect their lives and get to a consensus. We had some great discussions today, we had some great information today and it's just the way it should be. It's as grass roots democratic as it can be.   

(Smith) And with that, the gavel is put away and the chairs are folded for another year. Town Meeting , twenty ten is adjourned.

For VPR News, I'm Betty Smith in West Windsor.

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