Money issues most often dominate Town Meeting, and regardless of the community, there is usually one warning or item that will get voters going. Sometimes it’s only a small amount of money. School or town budgets for millions of dollars may pass with ease, but some relatively small item becomes the hot button issue, and debate will go on and on. This year we saw little of that fighting.
While money issues still were front and center at Town Meeting, we didn’t see the rancor and heated arguments that often take place. This week, at many Town Meetings, the ongoing recovery efforts from Tropical Storm Irene were foremost on many agendas. Kudos were given all around to road crews and town officials for their efforts to rebuild local towns. There were many questions about how everything was getting paid for, and towns are still trying to work out what costs local municipalities will have to shoulder, and what costs will be borne by state and federal agencies. But in the end, most budgets passed without much vitriol.
Perhaps it was just that voters were still shell-shocked after Irene. The damage done by Irene has been of the monumental, once-in-a-lifetime type of devastation. Perhaps it was that after pulling together to help their respective towns and neighbors recover, there just wasn’t much reason to fight over dollars and cents. Whatever the reasons, voters were in a general “just happy to be here” mood at just about every area Town Meeting.
If there’s one thing that can be predicted about Town Meeting, it’s that the results can’t always be predicted. Voters often defy the conventional wisdom, and to their credit it’s what makes Town Meeting in Vermont unique.
This year, perhaps the unpredictable was the general civility, the general respect neighbors showed for one another, and the general agreement on the issues.
If that’s the case, perhaps we have learned a few things in these difficult months. One thing is that we can work together, and that a big fight over a little issue pales in comparison to the really big issues we’ve all dealt with since Irene.