The smaller towns of New Hampshire and Vermont have a wonderful tradition: once a year, all the townspeople gather for Town Meeting, to discuss and vote on the important matters of the town. Although Town Meeting is usually held in March, the pandemic postponed the 2021 meeting to May… when we could meet outdoors. The weather today was lovely, with blue skies and a warm breeze wafting the scent of blooming trees through the tent set up on the Lyme Green.
The assembled townsfolk voted on the town’s operating budget for the coming year, with amendments proposed and approved (or denied) regarding the addition of lifeguards for the beach on the town pond; on the withdrawal of reserve funds to make payments on the new town fire truck, or to replace that aging police cruiser; to withdraw a few thousand dollars to support the annual July 4th celebration and the maintenance of the town cemetery; discussion of the paving of a road (and those portions not to be paved), and so forth. Most of these items passed with a modicum of debate. In keeping with the moderator’s opening remarks, it was “ok to disagree, but not to be disagreeable or disrespectful.” Each person who stood to speak introduced herself or himself by name and by home location, often by naming the prior resident of that home… recognizing that town history goes back centuries (and collective memory goes back decades).
The big issue of the year was in regards to our road – River Road – which runs along the Connecticut River. Indeed, it runs so close to the river that, in some places, it is at risk of washing away as the river eats into its banks. Without repeating a long story, today’s heated debate was about whether to abandon a section of River Road and to turn its roadbed into a “Class A trail”, allowing continued public access. Ultimately, by a very close vote, the town decided to do so. Again, the details are complex, and omitted here, but what struck me today was the degree of engagement and decorum by which the townspeople conducted their business. Town residents were there, in respectful conversation with the Select Board, with the Police Chief, with the Road Agent, and with the affected landowners, … and despite the tension and import of the issue to many, the debate proceeded with respect. I am proud of our little town.