Who’s ‘they’ in local government? You.

Who’s ‘they’ in local government? You.

Serving as a Town Meeting representative in Brattleboro can be quite fun, and you learn so much about our democratic process — all while having the final say over the actions of your Selectboard

BRATTLEBORO — In online discussions of local issues, it seems common for citizens to speak of the people who make decisions as “they.”

“They should put a light at that intersection.”

“They're raising our taxes once again.”

“They” is everywhere in online discussions, and even in person, of course. But in discussion of local politics or decisions, not national or worldwide issues, its use strikes me as curious.

On one level, of course, it's a semantic term of convenience: a lazy use of a pronoun when the point is the complaint, not offering a solution. I get that.

But, again, when it's local, it can also be an indicator of a lack of awareness of how our local governance works.

* * *

So who is “they”?

“They” is your neighbor, who when a seat was open on the traffic safety committee, set aside some time in a busy life to go to a monthly meeting, right before going in to work. “They” looked at that intersection, consulted with professional traffic planners, deliberated with their fellow board members, and decided that another traffic light would not help at that intersection, and possibly might make the situation even worse.

“They” is another neighbor who, after putting in many hours studying the town's budget while serving on the Selectboard, recommended a small increase in taxes to pay for the town employees' health insurance.

That decision was forwarded to many more “theys” who, after reviewing the revenue and expenditures, approved that increase during Representative Town Meeting.

You might see where I'm going here.

* * *

In our local, democratic government, “they” is whoever has the ability to step up and put their time in to serve the community.

In contrast to the “they” of national and world politics, our “they” is all of us who want to help run our town. It's who has the time and energy to serve the rest of our community, for a short while or a long time.

Some town positions take a lot more time and energy than others. I speak from experience when I say that stepping up to become a Selectboard member is not for everyone. It can be grueling, with hours of deliberation and hand-wringing and study and arguments and soul-searching - and, finally, of negotiation and compromise and moving on.

Other positions, like that of serving on a town committee or review board, are less demanding of time and also of energy, and they can be good places to start for someone looking to contribute without overcommitting.

* * *

Right now, the town needs volunteers to step up and become Town Meeting representatives.

It's a great system we have in Brattleboro. Instead of a typical Annual Town Meeting - which happens in most Vermont towns on a Tuesday, when few working or young people can participate - ours happens on a Saturday, so more people can participate. The “representative” part is great because it allows people to serve for a year or a few years while they can fit it into their lives.

Since you are representing many other voters, you make the time to study the issues, deliberate a bit, and vote from a position of more knowledge than a voter who does not have the time to study the subject completely.

On the floor of Town Meeting, you represent your district, and all of your district's voters, with an attention to detail for the subject that often gets lost in a traditional town meeting in New England.

It's quite fun, and you learn so much about our democratic process - all while having the final say over the actions of your Selectboard.

* * *

Please consider stopping by our Town Clerk's office to grab a petition to become a Town Meeting Representative.

You sign the document, then get nine other signatures from registered voters within your district. You will be on the ballot for the first Tuesday in March. Since these days (sadly) there is not much competition for seats, you will most likely be elected and become a Town Meeting representative for the meeting later in March. (It will take place on March 23 this year.)

This is your chance for you to become the “they” and support the democratic stewardship of your town.

You'll learn why “we” have proposed raising taxes, and you will exercise your power to approve or to reject that increase. You'll learn the background behind why “we” haven't yet put a light at that intersection, and you'll have a chance to turn the tide in favor of doing just that.

Stop by the Town Clerk's office at the Municipal Center and speak to Hilary Francis, the town clerk, or Jane Fletcher, the assistant town clerk, and they will answer any further questions. The deadline for turning in petitions is Monday, Jan. 28.

So join us and claim your power as a democratic representative of the voters of your district.

And transform the “they” into “us.”

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