A member reflects on Annual Representative Town Meeting in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — I write as a three-year member of Representative Town Meeting and a four-year Brattleboro resident. Reading Kevin O'Connor's accurate summary of our 2022 Annual Representative Town Meeting prompted me to comment.

To be an RTM member is an honor - a meaningful role in the small town where I live. In a city, impact is diminished. In villages, there's little critical mass for community enrichment. Being a meeting member gives opportunity to express oneself with both awareness and conscience.

The pluses:

1. I'm glad there's an annual meeting and that I can be part of it.

2. I appreciate the volunteers and town employees who prepare the booklet to study and to use as reference. It's an amazing document.

3. I'm usually glad for Zoom and its purpose. Yet I can hardly wait for the future hybrid days.

Areas to improve:

1. People, even RTM members, get insulated. I recommend each member take part in at least one nonprofit entity, whether it be a human services organization or any local government board or entity such as the library. One day a year doesn't cut it, and the agencies need us. Many already do, so the rest of us can easily do so as well.

2. I was most disappointed and frustrated with the Zoom malfunctioning, and then our moderator's light dismissal of it. There were three human services funding articles where I could not participate or vote - and they were the articles most important to me.

Given the group and format, it could have been remedied, and it should have: Two of these articles had close votes.

3. I've a sense the Selectboard members are disconnected and separate from the Town Meeting members. It may feel like a natural distinction, but in our small town it seems unnecessary.

4. Articles are set numerically, with little regard to size, urgency, or importance.

Up front, we spent a great deal of time over a proposed $2,500 lunch for members, which I understand had been studied in depth by a committee in the weeks prior. Ultimately, we dismissed the volunteers' recommendations, discounting their time and ours.

With so many articles along the way, the clock ran way over time. We subsequently rushed through both the human services articles and then the biggest item, the $19 million budget approval.

5. A big part of the Brattleboro “brand” is compassionate activism - civic, commercial, and residential, so you would think we would support human services.

Yet we encourage these agencies to keep their asking low, and we don't even keep up with inflation in our funding to them.

Someone shared that we give what the agencies ask. Checking with one agency, I learned this information is false: at least for this one agency, it got only half the amount it formally requested.

6. Lastly, as relates to the “compassionate”: I get a sense of little warmth from neighbors who are fellow members.

What's missing? Respect and humor.

I recognize this is an important day to cover important issues. Still it's not a solemn, holy day. We commit to spend a whole day, plus more, together.

More than a few of us would love to add respect and humor. Let's make the day enjoyable and all it can be.

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