Town Meeting Controversy

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(HOST) One week from today, Vermonters will once again gather to do their town’s business. Road maintainance will top many agendas, just as commentator Edith Hunter says it did over one hundred years ago.

(HUNTER) Here is an 1896 Town Meeting story from the the Warren Family of Weathersfield, written by Ethel Page Duncklee, and published by the Weathersfield Historical Society.

“At the time we settled at the Center [in 1895] there was agitation over the state of the highways. The ridge running north and south divided the town into two sections nearly equal in mileage. Many voters felt that the town would be better served by two highway agents – one for the Perkinsville side and one for the Bow and Ascutney side.

“Uncle Luther Warren was about seventy years of age, still carrying on his great farm on the Black river. He felt strongly on this highway controversy and got elected to the State Legislature, with the avowed purpose of introducing a bill to allow this town to have two road commissioners.

“At Montpelier his white hair and forthright electioneering made him a conspicuous figure. He laid his plans shrewdly and got his bill as far as the floor. On the day it was to come to a vote he had a barrel of his best apples rolled into the Chamber and emptied down the aisles. With laughter and cheers the bill for the two road commissioners for the town of Weathersfield passed.

“Then it was necessary for the town to accept this plan at the 1896 March Town Meeting, and to elect two men in place of the customary one. When Town Meeting day arrived Uncle Luther was ill at home, and there was no one to push the new plan.

“The women of the Center Church were serving dinner at one side of the Town Hall. My father [William Page] was helping wash dishes, wearing a white duck butcher apron from his meat market days in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“As the debate on the road commissioner article petered out and the old standpatters seemed to be gaining the ear of the crowd, my father, who was near enough to hear everything, wiped his hands on his apron, and gathering it around him, leaped onto the rear of the stage and addressed the Moderator.

“His ringing voice arrested the attention of every voter. Simply and clearly he pointed out how Uncle Luther had worked for a chance for the town to try out this system. It was no more than fair that it be given a trial. He moved that the town adopt the proposal and proceed to elect two road commissioners. And so it came to pass.”

To bring this story up to date, this policy was followed until 1924 when the town returned to a single road commissioner. Then, at Town Meeting in 1970, the town voted in Article 2 to adopt the Town Manager system of government and voted in Article 3 to authorize the Selectmen to appoint – rather than elect – a Road Commissioner.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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