is Town Meeting Day
According to Vermont
law, "A meeting of legal voters of each
town shall be held annually on the first
Tuesday of March for the election of
officers and the transaction of other
Town meeting is the
closest we can come to direct democracy.
As opposed to our state and federal
legislature where we elect someone to
represent us, each citizen represents
themselves at Town Meeting. Each individual
can bring an issue to the attention
of the community, they can question
or challenge a budget item and they
decide, by voting, who will work for
them in local government.
Electing local officials
is a major responsibility. These officials
who make up our local government represent
the level of government that you come
into contact with most often. Local
government provides basic on-going services
like funding public schools; maintaining
roads, and police and fire protection.
With guidance from
the community, local officials address
current issues like repairing a bridge,
building a new police station, addressing
the noise level of car radios or building
a skateboard park. Communities may also
use Town Meeting to look at issues that
affect the future such as keeping businesses
in the downtown areas or proposals for
Town Meeting Day gives
every citizen the opportunity to participate
in the debate over the issues that affect
the community in which they live. It
is the most direct form of democracy
The history of Town
Meeting Day reflects much of what we
value in democracy. In the late 1700's,
Vermont was being settled by people
seeking independence and more control
of their own lives. Early settlers of
Vermont shared a love of freedom, independence
and the beautiful mountain land they
called home. They realized that in addition
to these shared values, they all had
a stake in building and maintaining
Every few weeks, the
people would gather in town to discuss
how they would build and maintain their
community. The issues in those days
were likely similar to the issues of
today. Citizens were looking for a place
to buy, sell or trade goods, to have
protection from criminals who would
steal, cheat or cause physical harm,
they may have looked for a public water
system to prevent disease and for emergency
use. Since 1762, this has been recognized
as Town Meeting in Vermont.
In the early days,
men over the age of 21 gathered weekly
or monthly to discuss town business.
At that point they did not have elected
officials. However, as the needs of
the town grew, the townsmen elected
representatives to handle the town's
business. These men where known as Selectmen.
As they took on the responsibilities
of running the town, the time between
town meetings increased. Eventually
town meetings became an annual event
as we know it today. The role of citizens
has changed from directly making and
implementing decisions to overseeing
the work of those elected or hired to
do the town's business.
Local government at
the town level is unique, and seen in
its pure form in New England. Without
a county government, local government
plays a major role in Vermont's system
of government. To this day, Vermont
remains unique in its heavy reliance
on local government.
Happens on Town Meeting Day
The business conducted
at Town Meetings has changed little
over 200 years. First and foremost Town
Meeting is unique to each town. Most
have Town Meeting on the first Tuesday
in March, though a provision in Vermont
statutes allows communities to select
a different day, and some do.
Regardless of when
the meeting is held, each community
must have a warning of the meeting to
come. A warning is a notice 30 to 40
days before the meeting. This notice
must include the date, time, location
and the business that will be done at
the meeting. This notice must be posted
at specific places in each community
and must also run in the newspaper at
least five days before the meeting.
Each town elects a
moderator who will oversee the Town
Meeting. In addition to electing the
Moderator for the next Town Meeting,
most towns also elect a town clerk,
treasurer, selectman, lister and auditor.
Elected positions vary from town to
town. In larger communities, they may
also elect a mayor, city councilors
or school board members.
In addition to electing
local officials, most towns review and
approve the town's finances and budget.
The budget usually provides for school
funding, police and fire protection,
local government employee salaries,
road maintenance and construction projects.
The community may choose to provide
funding for other services like a youth
center, funding for a homeless shelter
or transportation for the elderly. Some
communities also vote on the school
budget at this time.
The budget helps determine
what taxes will be paid to provide for
these services. Most of the funds come
from a tax on property, the level of
which is determined by the budget approved
by the community.
The final area of business
at Town Meeting is other issues facing
the community, state or nation. Most
of the time the issues are local, like
the construction of a new building or
the purchase of park land. In some cases,
like the civil unions issue, communities
will openly discuss issues and cast
ballots to show their views on issues
facing the state. Again, the issues
addressed are unique to the challenges
and opportunities present for each community.
Voting is the culmination
of Town Meeting Day activities. Since
the controversy in Florida over the
method of casting a ballot, more people
are paying attention to how we actually
go about voting. In Vermont, the voting
procedures are unique to each community
and include a blend of the old fashion
ways mixed with a bit of modern technology.
In some communities, Town Meeting
day votes are still done by voice. The oldest
means of voting involves the moderator asking
those in favor to voice an "Aye" and those against
voice a "Nay" for each item of business. If there
is some question about the outcome of a specific
voice vote, the moderator may ask for a show of
hands to count the vote total. Paper ballots counted
by hand are also used.
Each method described
above assumes the traditional Town Meeting
format that involves debate and discussion
before voting. In many Vermont communities,
the Australian ballot is used. In this
method, a standard ballot is printed
and voters may come in at any time during
voting hours to cast their ballot. In
this method, there is no debate and
discussion, or if so it does not usually
occur the day of the vote.
bring up some questions about the purpose
of Town Meeting Day. The benefit of
this method is that it takes less time
and therefore may make it easier for
citizens to vote. However, this method
removes the debate and discussion element
that is the backbone of Town Meeting.
Experts would debate the importance
of taking away the opportunity to share
ideas and opinions before voting on
Ballots are tallied
by hand count or optical scanners. In
either case, Vermont has a low incidence
of spoiled ballots. As for the now famous
butterfly ballots of Florida, Vermont
stopped using those 15 years ago.
Future of Town Meeting Day
Increasingly, we find
debate about the value and importance
of Town Meeting Day. How important is
Town Meeting Day? Well, just how important
is it for you to have a say in the affairs
of your town? How much do you value
this tradition of direct democracy?
Letting go of Town Meeting day is giving
up more control over the things that
have a direct, and sometimes daily affect
on our lives. And it means giving up
a tradition that sets us apart from
other states and shapes who we are.
Keeping Town Meeting alive is preserving
democracy and a unique part of our character
for the next generation. Bring your
family, bring your neighbors, bring
your community together this Town Meeting
Are The People In Your Local Government
While positions in local
government can vary from town to town,
here are some of the most common positions
in town government.
One of the most important people on
town meeting day as his/her job is to
oversee the Town Meeting. The Moderator
is elected on Town Meeting Day to oversee
the next year's Town Meeting.
Town Clerk -
Clerks are the central record keepers
for each town. In addition to administering
and reporting the results of local and
state elections, clerks also keep track
of deeds, mortgages, marriage licenses,
births and deaths. They may also collect
certain fees and bills owed to the town.
Elected by the townspeople to oversee
the town's business and implementing
decisions made at Town Meeting.
Oversees the town finances, including
sources of income and payment of bills.
Auditor - Reviews
town financial record and prepares the
Town Report, which presents the town's
financial information for its citizens.
Listers - Each
town elects three people to keep a list
of property in the community and the
value of each for the purpose of assessing
taxes. This is important because taxes
on that property are the primary source
of funds for local government and schools.
- Some towns choose to hire an individual
to oversee the administrative needs
of the town. A town manager is hired
by and works with the Selectmen. They
implement the policy decisions of the
Selectmen and those made at Town Meeting.
- Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood
Since each community
in Vermont is unique, take the time
to learn about your local government.
- List the positions
in your town government and identify
if they are elected, hired or appointed.
- Now, list the individual
who currently holds each office.
- Finally, select one
office or officeholder you find interesting
and do some research. What do they
do, how long have they been in office,
what is their favorite part of their
- Share your research
with your classmates at school and
your family at home.
- Council-Manager system
is the only system of government unique
to the United States - the rest were
borrowed from other nations and civilizations.
- There are 252 towns
and cities in Vermont; 243 are towns
and 9 are cities.
- Town Meeting Day
often falls on the day Vermont entered
Search For The Elements Of Town Meetings
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