Last night our high school’s parking lot was filling, a combination of spring sports and the evening’s gathering. It was our annual Town Meeting. If you’ve never lived in a small town, it’s quite an experience.
This is the night when residents gather and vote on all the details that are necessary to run a town. It all starts with the Finance Committee (my guy sits at this table), an advisory board answering to the elected Selectmen. The Select board either hands off the administration of their decisions to the Town Manager, or to the town for a vote.
Once a year we pile into the auditorium with the red votingcards we’ve been issued – no voting booths or secret ballots - and raise our hands to vote yea or nay on whether we should transfer funds from the town’s Free Cash fund to pay for an epic snowstorm back in October of 2011, or perhaps replace the water department truck that had been hit head-on when a car crossed the double line over on Boston Road.
Out of a town of around 14,000, it’s a pretty poor showing. Last night there were fewer than 450 people and most of them were there because of a couple of hot topics.
We built a new high school a few years ago and some people are still grousing about that even though the old building was in such poor shape that the library ceiling was falling and school's doors had to be chained to keep them from flying open.
Our police station is in worse shape. The building went up in 1904, originally as a school. Now the foundation is crumbling so badly you can see outside from the basement. One police officer with health issues has to change into his uniform at the fire station because of the pervasive mold in the police locker room. Felons sit in the tiny lobby along with whatever public wanders in and evidence is stored in cubbies and shelves and available tables here and there.
Even after an informative presentation spelling all this out, which culminated in the fact that it will cost taxpayers only another $50 per year, people stood up to object to it. And object to it.
And that night’s vote didn’t even decide where we would build it. This was just to put it on the ballot for the general election that would occur at the end of the week.
Still, it’s democracy. If you had a question, statement of support or objection, your voice was heard. Sometimes we heard well-thought-out comments that helped us to see another angle to something. Sometimes we received a rambling reminiscence of what the town was like when the speaker was a boy. (This occasionally ended with the gripe that they didn’t understand why taxes have risen since then. Apparently they were unfamiliar with the concept of cost of living increases that hit not only people, but towns.) It even got a bit rowdy once a speaker was done and her supporters could show their approval.
By 10:30 we had managed to work through about 40 articles, but had another two pages to go and thankfully, the remaining business was shelved for a second night.