Letter to the editor: Support true democracy by attending town meeting

Town Meeting time is approaching, and this year, Town Meeting comes with changes and challenges. With the passage of Act 46 and consolidation of school districts, the ability for voters to discuss and vote on local town school budgets at Town Meeting is now gone. Many towns in Addison County and Vermont still discuss and vote the town budgets at Town Meeting, but there are others, like my town of Salisbury, who vote Town/Highway budgets by Australian ballot.
As a result, though there is plenty of time for discussion and becoming informed, there will be minimal voting of any meaning at Town Meeting. Town Meeting has been an important part of Vermont history for centuries. It is the purest form of self-government, a true citizen legislature. Not only is it a time to make decisions together as a town, but it also builds and connects our communities.
In recent years, Town Meeting attendance has dwindled. Citizens are busy, tired or not familiar with or interested in the Town Meeting process. Additionally, in a culture that places a premium on that which is easy and comfortable, Town Meeting, which asks voters to speak up, share ideas (respectfully!), learn about new points of view, can be messy, contentious and uncomfortable. 
But this process of citizen self-government can also be exhilarating, informative and very meaningful! With the loss of meaningful decision-making and voting, the “guts” of Town Meeting, towns like Salisbury may very well lose Town Meeting. In Salisbury, a group of concerned citizens have been working to reinvigorate interest in Town Meeting. A student presentation is planned; there will be many displays from various town committees and organizations, door prizes and a potluck dinner following the meeting.
Voters last year approved a meeting change to Saturday afternoon, March 4 for this year. Perhaps, in the future, Salisbury voters will decide to move town budget decisions back to the floor of Town Meeting. Generations of Vermonters have gathered on the first days of March to make decisions about roads, bridges and schools, planning community life for the present and future, practicing democracy in one of it’s purest forms.
Whether you are a Town Meeting veteran, or have never attended, in this time of change and transition on many levels, I hope you will find the time and commitment to attend your Town Meeting. This tradition, which is government “Of the People, By the People and For the People” will survive and thrive only if it is nourished by citizen interest, commitment and participation. See you there!
Heidi Willis

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