Letter to the editor: ACSD’s denial of petitions was undemocratic

On its website, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns describes town meeting as “direct democracy practiced in its purest form. It is the key to town government, as voters assemble to discuss issues, debate budgets, air grievances, elect officers, and determine the town and school district business for the coming year.” That direct democracy is one of the things I have valued about our state for many years. Even our highest elected officials are frequently available for direct conversation, as Rep. Peter Welch demonstrated in his recent visit the Bee’s Wrap factory in Middlebury.
At the Jan. 21 ASCD board meeting, that democracy seemed sadly lacking. Two petitions signed by over 800 residents, proportionally representative of all the towns in our district, had been presented to that board, a month before the required deadline. The board voted unanimously to not include either item for voting on Town Meeting Day. I could understand their reluctance on the petition involving representational voting, because their lawyer’s opinion suggested it would not be legal (although that opinion, I believe, could be challenged).
The second petition asked to give a town a vote before a school closure. On that, the lawyer’s opinion was that the board could choose to include it or not. They chose not. While it was their prerogative, it was a choice away from democracy.
My question to them is how do you get thirteen members to make such a decision without any discussion? While the legal opinion was read and the history of putting the charter together four years ago was discussed, not a single board member raised the issue of whether they should respond to the will of the people. No one brought up any concerns or actually probed the issue.
How do you get thirteen different people to respond lockstep on such an item that had not had discussion at previous board meetings? How do you have a situation where over half the board sits silent, mostly looking down, and then votes in unanimity? The Chair did not ask for a motion on this item; he read off a motion for someone to echo that was pre-written and stated to not accept the petition. When people question a lack of transparency with the board, this is why.
I have served on boards for well over thirty years and even on a board with only three members have never experienced such a lack of discussion, questioning, and probing.
As our democracy seems to be slipping away in other arenas of our country, let’s not lose it here in our own communities.
Laurie Cox

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