Mellow Town Meeting

Today is town meeting day in Vermont. There are meetings happening right now in some towns. Some towns had a daytime meeting today and some had theirs last night, including my town of HInesburg. Ours was a relatively quick and quiet meeting. We had nothing on the ballet that was particularly contentious. We had no large increase in taxes. There was not a purchase or expense requiring a bond vote. It was pretty standard stuff.

Our town moderator, who has been elected for one-year terms for as long as I have lived here, is one of the best parts of the meeting. He is clear and judicial and fair and uses humor and really makes sure everyone sticks to the rules. The rules, of course, are Robert’s Rules of Order, in use at town meetings for decades. It is comforting to have such rules, and to have them used every year at the town meeting. It lends a sense that things are orderly and will all work out. It makes me feel as though I am a part of history, following that same guidelines that generations have followed. Our moderator was running again for office, on the ballot today, unopposed. I voted for him happily.

We voted on much of the budget and a couple of other things last night. Library budget, police department budget, lake district budget–all were discussed and approved with little opposition. The budget was broken down into eight separate sections and voted on separately. In years past there has been some heated discussion. Not last night.

One of the biggest issues of the night was that the “dust control” line item had been reduced by $10,000. Someone spoke up to say that the dust was really bad last spring and summer so can’t we keep that money in the budget and do a better job controlling dust this year? The select board noted that the dust control consists of a chloride solution that needs to be applied to dirt roads right before it rains; and it can’t be too cold either. In other words, the conditions need to be just right and if they are not, no dust control. It isn’t that anyone ignored the problem last year, but that the conditions were not right most of the time to make it work. Someone proposed an amendment to the article, adding back the $10,000, but after some discussion that got voted down.

The meeting only lasted a couple of hours so I was out of there around 9:00. Not too bad, considering I left one previous meeting at 11:00, an hour before it ended. Outside the door there were a couple of paper surveys to fill out for those who wanted. One was concerning our union high school, seeking feedback about the community’s perceptions. The other was the usual Doyle survey. This survey, unscientific to be sure, created by a state senator, has been a staple at town meeting and town voting for many years. It asks questions about current hot topics.  Two questions this year were “Should Vermont legalize marijuana?” and “Should drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while driving?” I am curious to see the results.

Voting on some articles happened today. We voted to elect town officers, whether or not to pass the school budget for the town (the first year this was voted by Australian ballot rather than a voice vote at the school budget meeting) and on the union high school budget. We also voted separately on whether to fund a couple of new school buses which, based on the state of the bus my kids ride to school, seems like a good idea.

We will all find out tomorrow what towns passed their school budget and what issues were debated across the state. I like to be part of the process. It is good to know that if I or anyone else stands up to ask a question or to support something or to oppose something in town, we will be heard. Sometimes it is the person who stands up who sways the rest of the voters. That is a power to be respected.

Your Uneventful Town Meeting

Things started pretty much on time.  I was there on time but lingered outside for a few.  I found a seat as the moderator was reading the warning for the meeting.  I didn’t miss anything I already knew.

The first two articles were to be voted on the following day at the town hall.  The first was the school budget, the second was a vote to remove the position of town auditor.  We are supposed to have three auditors but no one has run for it since 2004.  Not a critical position, apparently.  Or a desired one.

I was curious about what discussion might ensue regarding the budget.  There was some discussion about salary increases for town employees.  The budget called for a 5% increase in all salaries and a few people expressed concern that this was too high.  It does seen high.  Who gets 5% when most people have a freeze on their salaries?  The general budget passed anyway.

Other discussion points were why we need a new dumptruck after only ten years (they get worked hard and repairs begin to outpace the value of just paying for a new one), why the police budget included funds for a new car when it did the last two years as well (it is a regular part of that budget to plan for a new purchase every other year) and the wind turbine at the library.  This last started producing power last year but the electric line in that budget goes up every year.  “Is this thing getting us anything?” someone asked.  It provides 10% of the library’s power even as more use of the library means more electricity use.  That was installed at no cost to the town, so it is all essentially a gain.

The biggest discussion item was a petitioned article to vote to close the Yankee Nuclear Power Plant when it is scheduled to close in 2012.  There were some strong feelings on both sides, including discussion of how to replace the power that the state would lose and how much electricity costs might rise without the plant.  Ultimately it got a yes voice vote.  Many other towns voted on the same article and passed it.  I voted yes on this one.  What would we say if there were an accident down the line with this oldest (in the world) of active power plants?  This sure is bad to have all this radioactivity all over the place, but it sure was worth it to save a few cents per kilowatt hour?

And that was about it.  We voted to support local charities and the land trust and to set aside funds for conservation.  And it was good to see at least a sampling of fellow Hinesburgers.  Not enough people were there, of course, given the town’s population, but at the auditorium at Champlain Valley Union High School was mostly full.  It didn’t run all that late but, nonetheless, the voice vote to adjourn was the loudest of all.cy

Off to Town Meeting

I am off to town meeting just now. I look forward to seeing some of my fellow Hinesburg town citizens and hearing what others have to say about how our town operates. I am curious what others are thinking these days with worries about lower revenues and job losses and so on.

Tomorrow we vote on the budgets for the town, the school and the high school. Hopefully, I will take one of my kids with me. Let them see democracy happening and all that. Now, however, I need to split. I don’t want to miss things getting started.

Staying Up Late to Watch History

I had a busy day today and I knew I would have to get up early, but I love election night.  I always feel excited about watching what is happing across the nation.  OK, I understand I am not really watching what is happening right then, just the prediction of the summary of what happened throughout the day, but still, it is exciting and I like to watch it unfold.

Any election is somewhat historic.  It marks a transition of power that unlike so many in the world, is peaceful and (for the most part) fair.  Aside from attempts to keep people from registering to vote, most adults can register and then vote.  That in itself is pretty amazing.  This election was certainly the most historic in my lifetime.  Barack Obama came from a modest background to be elected president of the most wealthy and powerful nation in earth.  Not bad.

I watched Fox News throughout the night because that is the only channel we get that does not have a double image or simply fuzz.  We do not have cable or a satellite dish (why pay at least $30 per month to get a few channels we want and 40 we don’t?) so we make do with what we can receive.  We get our news from The New Yorker, Mother Jones, The New York Times and lots of online sources.  Television news usually doesn’t make the cut in terms of quality or quantity.

But last night I wanted to watch, to see things unfold with sound and pictures.  I was glad I did.  I was skeptical of the Fox News coverage, which seemed to be focused on being the first to report who won each state.  At every milestone they would call a winner for several states.  At 10:00 they were calling the winner in states where polls had just closed.  Literally no results were officially in and they were predicting a winner for the presidential race.  It was hard to believe.  Remember Florida?

At 11:00, right when polls closed on the west coast, and with two states’ polling places still open, they announced Barack Obama the winner.  I was at first, again, skeptical but soon understood that I no longer had to wonder if this man would pull it off.  He did.  And come January, we will have our first president to break through the color barrier.   That is one for the history books.  I had considered going to bed once I heard a result, but I realized I needed to be a witness, in the moment, to history.

That is plenty to celebrate, but Obama’s speech made me cry.  He was humble and honest and inspiring, not because he turned out the usual political jargon, but because he understood that this moment is only partly about him.  It is about this nation and what we have the potential to become.  It is about moving forward in a new and positive way.  He showed in that speech that he understands that we need to make sacrifices and that we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We can’t sit back and wait for him to do it.  We need to be the change agents ourselves.  I was moved that he said that this is really just the opportunity, the chance to change things.  His election is not change.  We need to make that happen.

He inherits some damaged goods.  I can’t imagine doing the amount of work he will need to do to begin the process of healing the wounds of divisiveness we have faced internally and to create a new image of the United States in the world.  i was dumbfounded when George W. Bush was elected the first time.  i couldn’t even believe he had become the nominee.  I was doubly baffled when he was elected to a second term.  We got what we chose, and I hope enough of us can see that now.  We have work to do and I believe our new president can see much of what needs to be done.  Whether we can really get it done, well, that is up to you and me.

Voting Day

I have been looking forward to voting and, like thousands of other Vermonters, and millions of other United States citizens, I did so today. I made sure to have the car with four wheel drive so I could take the back way to the polls. Like everywhere else, high turnout was expected here in Hinseburg, and I wanted to avoid a line of traffic on Route 116. So I went the bumpy way.

I brought my daughter with me. She got off the bus and then we waited about an hour before we left. She needed a snack and a break before we headed out. I was excited to vote and was itching to get out there but I was patient. My morning was too busy to get to the town hall to vote so I had planned on doing so in the afternoon. That meant my daughter could come along.

There was plenty of parking in the lot below the town hall and the place was not busy. As we walked in, I overheard one of the poll workers tell a voter that she “must be special,” joking, because she got to go to the Chittenden 1-2 district table to get her ballot. I went in an noted that I must be special as well. Here was the irony: a small fraction of voters are in my district but I had to wait behind one person while no one was getting a ballot from the five poll workers for Chittenden 1-1.

It was not a long wait. My daughter and I found a booth (open, no curtain here, but private enough) and I marked my ballot. I was proud to be able to vote across parties for local races. i voted for Barack Obama (as I write the New York Times reports that so far 66% of Vermonters voted for Obama–not bad for the whitest state in the union) and it felt great to finally be able to fill in that oval. I also voted for my former state representative, Gaye Symington, for governor, although she has had little chance of winning.

My daughter fed the ballot into the electronic scanner and we each took an “I Voted” sticker. We got a couple of donut holes (she made sure to take one for her brother, who we were headed to pick up after leaving the town hall–I love her for that kind of thing), thanked the poll workers, and headed back out. The whole process took all of ten minutes. There was a line of traffic heading into town as we left town but we skirted that problem.

My daughter asked me later who the first president was as well as who “the last” president was. She asked me more about his last president. What could I say? I just told her that some people are good at their jobs and some people are not and that he was not all that good at his. We talked about that for a few minutes, with me struggling to explain national politics to a child whose first experience was a mock election at school today. I am sure we will have more such conversations.

It looks like a good bet that my children will remember Barack Obama as the first president of their lives. That is historical and powerful. It is amazing. And I am happy to be part of it.

Election Eve

Tomorrow is voting day.  It is a day to which I look forward in general.  Tomorrow will be an exciting one.  Lots of people will be voting and it promises to be an event at any time of the day.  Many Vermonters have voted early, including my wife, but I have been waiting for election day.  I want to be a part of the ceremony.

Voting in Hinesburg is an experience that makes me feel part of the place.  There are two districts here, the first of which consists of almost all of the town (Chittenden 1-1), and then mine, which consists our our house plus a handful of others (Chittenden 1-2).  We share a district with Charlotte in some weird districting.  There are 3,137 voters in town as of the end of January but only “a couple of hundred Hinesburg voters in Chittenden 1-2.”

What this means for Hinesburg voters is that for one race for state senate, there are different candidates.  Otherwise the ballots are the same.  What this means for this Hinesburg voter is that I get to go to a separate table where is no line.  It is like the frequent flier business class check-in for voting.

So tomorrow I will vote mid-afternoon, not the morning rush and not the evening rush.  Hopefully things will go smoothly and I will be on my way.  I am hoping there will be some donuts left and that my daughter, who will come with me to see democracy in action and all that, will have the patience after school to bear with it.  I plan to take the back way on the class four road to avoid possible traffic.  That may not be necessary but it will be fun anyway.

I can’t wait to vote.  It feels great.  Voting is not just a privilege but a duty.  Many people do not see it that way, I know, but I want to show my daughter that not only is it the right thing to do, but if you time it right, you might meet some neighbors and even get a donut.  Not that democratic duty should mean donuts, but if that helps her remember it, I’m good.

I hope you get out and vote yourself.  If you can, you should.  Otherwise you are a slacker, and I will tolerate no complaining about any elected officials.  Even if you voted for the other candidate.