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Town Meeting Day - It's Our Tradition

On the first Tuesday of March, voters in communities across Vermont come together to discuss and vote on town issues.  This is called Town Meeting Day.  For over 200 years Town Meeting Day has been an important political event as citizens elect local officials and vote on town and school budgets and make many other decisions for the town.  In many towns, Town Meeting has also become a place to discuss state and national issues that effect us in Vermont.

The Secretary of State's office offers four booklets about town meeting.  The accompanying teachers' guides for the first three publications include materials and information to help teachers stimulate class discussion and to measure learning.

 

Vermont Town Meeting Coloring & Activity Book

Suggested Level:  K - 3rd grade

Click here for a PDF of Vermont Town Meeting Coloring & Activity Book or click on the book.

You are never too young to learn about Town Meeting!  This activity-packed workbook will teach our youngest Vermonters all about this unique day.  The booklet also includes suggestions for classroom activities to help students experience the concepts addressed in the coloring book.         

Click here to order online.

 

 

Town Mouse and Country Mouse Go To Town Meeting Student Booklet and Teacher's Guide

Suggested Level:  4th - 6th grade

Click here for a PDF of Town Mouse and Country Mouse Go To Town Meeting or click on the book.

Follow the adventures of Town Mouse and Country Mouse as they learn about the value of participatory democracy!  Students will enjoy the puzzles and activities -- games which will help teachers assess student learning.

Click here to order online.

 

 

Town Meeting Day:  A Vermont Tradition Student Booklet and Teacher's Guide

Suggested Level:  7th - 12th grade

Click here for a PDF of Town Meeting Day:  A Vermont Tradition or click on the book.

Should Town Meeting continue to be an important part of Vermont's community experience?  An in-depth look at Town Meeting that will motivate students to learn more about what makes local government work!

Click here to order online.

 

 

A Citizen's Guide to Vermont Town Meeting

Suggested Level:  9th grade - Adult

Click here for a PDF of A Citizen's Guide to Vermont Town Meeting or click on the book.

This short publication is designed to help you learn about Vermont's Town Meeting Day, its history, and how it works today.  We also hope that the materials in this booklet will help citizens get involved in town meeting.

 

 

 

All Those In Favor

Suggested Level:  9th grade - Adult

This book takes a look at Vermont's town meeting tradition; its strengths, its vulnerabilities, its problems, and its prospects and then offers specific tips for citizens and local officials on how to strengthen this important democratic institution. 

"Read this book if you care about Vermont."

                      Karen B. Horn, Vermont League of Cities and Towns

Click here to order.

 

 

Other Town Meeting Resources:

Town Meeting and Local Elections

How to Read A Town Report

The Meeting Will Come to Order - A guide to Town Meeting procedure

Its Your Turn, A Call to Local Office - An introduction to locally elected positions

Who's Who in Local Government

Robert's Rules of Order

Library of Congress on Vermont Town Meeting

For more information, contact your local Town Clerk's office or go to the Secretary of State's website at www.sec.state.vt.us

 

 

What 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 business."

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 new development.

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 we have.

History

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 their community.

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.

What 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.

How We Vote

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.

Australian ballots 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 the issues.

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.

The 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 Day.

Who 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.

Moderator - 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.

Selectman - Elected by the townspeople to oversee the town's business and implementing decisions made at Town Meeting.

Treasurer - 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.

Town Manager - 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.

ACTIVITY - Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood

Since each community in Vermont is unique, take the time to learn about your local government.

  1. List the positions in your town government and identify if they are elected, hired or appointed.
  2. Now, list the individual who currently holds each office.
  3. 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 job?
  4. Share your research with your classmates at school and your family at home.

Did You Know?

  • 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 the Union.

ACTIVITY: Search For The Elements Of Town Meetings
Printer Friendly Word Puzzle (pdf file, 44KB)

 

 

 

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