Clippings: Races dwindling in local elections
OPINION: I’ve seen an election or two in my almost 25 years covering Addison County. One of the exciting aspects of our annual Town Meeting Day coverage has been following who was challenging who for positions on local selectboards, school boards and city councils. Heck, the town of Lincoln always used to be good for a rousing race for town constable.
Unfortunately, that election-related suspense has waned considerably during the past 10 or so years. People just aren’t running for local offices the way they used to, and it’s a shame.
A survey of the 23 town meeting warnings in Addison County reveals:
• There are no contested races at all in nine communities, including Addison, Bridport, Bristol, Monkton, Lincoln, Leicester, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. Nominations are taken from the floor at town meetings in five of the county’s smallest communities, so as of this writing it was too soon to tell whether there would be contests in Granville, Hancock, Panton, Waltham or Whiting.
• No one had filed nomination papers for various elected positions in four Addison County communities. As a result, write-in campaigns or appointments are in the offing for one local school board position each in Addison and Lincoln; a lister, a town agent and a Mount Abraham Union High School board member in New Haven; and two elementary school board positions in Salisbury.
• There was at least one contested race on the ballot — but no more than two total races — in nine local communities: Cornwall, Ferrisburgh, Goshen, Middlebury, New Haven, Orwell, Ripton, Starksboro and Vergennes. Ferrisburgh, Vergennes, Orwell and New Haven boasted the most election intrigue on Tuesday, with two contested races each.
It should also be noted that the number of elected positions on local ballots is likely to decline very soon.
A handful of Addison County communities fielded referenda on Tuesday requesting abolition of the position of elected auditor, or to allow their respective selectboards to appoint their future town clerks and treasurers rather than the current practice of electing them. Communities seeking to do away with the elected auditor’s position argue that the office rarely draws any candidates and that it is unnecessary, given that municipalities now hire professional accounting firms to inspect their books. Meanwhile, towns seeking to appoint their town clerks and treasurers note that they are currently unable to hire eminently qualified candidates who might reside outside their borders.
Many communities in recent years already banished from their respective election ballots a lot of the archaic positions that provided little service to the town and simply gave the office holder some cocktail party conversation. Examples: Fence viewer, and weigher of coal.
To be fair, interest in local elected positions tends to spike when controversial issues are in play. For example, eight candidates stepped forward for three positions on the Middlebury selectboard last March, when the board was dealing with a polarizing proposal to build a new municipal building and recreation center. Fast forward to this past Tuesday, which saw three incumbent Middlebury selectboard members run unopposed for new terms.
The rapid proliferation of solar arrays in New Haven was at least partially responsible for the two races for the New Haven selectboard that were decided on Tuesday.
But there’s no getting around the fact that citizens are increasingly unable to invest the time needed to serve capably on a selectboard or school board. More and more households need two incomes in order to make ends meet. Folks working two or more jobs for extra income have precious few hours to share with their community and instead just want to unwind and spend time with family when they get home. The younger generation has more technology, TV and toys for diversion; in the “good old days” there wasn’t even TV, so folks spent their time “reading,” joining civic clubs and, yes, serving on local boards and commissions.
Where will it all lead? I’m not sure. Let’s just hope things heat up and that we’re not seeing a seismic shift in our cherished small-town elections here in the Green Mountain State.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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