We should put effort into revitalizing Wilmington’s Town Meeting

A Town Meeting is direct democracy in action. That is something to preserve and fight for.

Nicki Steel (nickisteel.com) is a photographer who focuses on the details of the rural landscape close to home.

For the second year in a row, the Wilmington Selectboard has put before the voters at Town Meeting a choice to do away with in-person Town Meeting and go completely to Australian ballot.

What was the vote last year, you ask? In favor of cancelling town meetings? No one. In favor of keeping Town Meetings? Everyone in the room.

The Board asked us to make a decision, and we did but I guess the Board believes that they don't need to listen to what voters overwhelmingly said.

I think everyone agrees that more people at Town Meeting would be a good thing. But from there, opinions on what should happen diverge.

The Selectboard seems to believe that there is little or no worth to the meeting, so let's throw it out. I think there is great worth and that we should put effort into revitalizing it.

Here are my reasons:

• It is really the only time that voters can directly introduce something, discuss it, vote on it right then and, if passed, have it happen. Yes, we can go to meetings and hearings and give input, but the Selectboard is not obligated to do what the voters want. A Town Meeting is direct democracy in action. That is something to preserve and fight for.

• Now more than ever, we need times when we get together, face-to-face, and discuss differing opinions in respectful ways. As even board members now Zoom in, those times are sadly lacking. When you sit next to someone at Town Meeting or eat lunch together, you see them as a person: People of all ages, economic levels, professions, and points of view are there and interacting.

It doesn't matter how long you've lived here - your opinion is counted with your vote. A benefit of small-town living is you may not agree with your neighbors but you know and appreciate them. There is great value in that.

• Town Meeting is also a place for learning. I have learned a lot over the years about the budget, how different departments operate, how we spend our money, and what as a town we value. Our town is stronger if the citizens are better informed, and Town Meetings do that.

* * *

Being a citizen in a democracy does take some effort. It takes being informed and involved - not just checking a box or, worse yet, not participating at all.

I do believe that there are some who truly would like to be there but can't because of work or child care obligations, so this year the local child care center is offering care for parents who want to come to Town Meeting. I hope that helps some attend.

Sadly, I also know many people who don't really care - who might want to get on the slopes or head out of town for the day. They could come but will choose not to.

When many seem to think that we (the world, country, state, town - take your pick) are going to hell in a handbasket, Town Meeting can be a bright light: a time we get together and figure it out, learn about our town government and have a real voice, see friends and meet new people.

Rather than discard Town Meetings, let's work to get more people there. It's not hard - you just have to show up. And bring a friend!

And if you have recently moved to Wilmington, it's a time to participate in a significant Vermont tradition while getting to know your neighbors. We will all benefit if you do.

Wilmington's Town Meeting is on Tuesday, March 5 at 10 a.m. at the Old School gym.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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