Officials Prepare for Town Meeting Day

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Town Meeting Day is six weeks away and officials in Vermont communities are busy preparing.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

Select boards across the state are getting ready for town meeting by preparing budget requests and reviewing petitions to add items to the warning.

Every year on Town Meeting Day, voters are asked to consider a variety of issues. In some cases, they’re global concerns like nuclear disarmament.

But Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says, by law, town officials are only required to accept petitions that deal with local budget and governance issues:

(Markowitz) “It often comes as a bad surprise to voters to discover that¿they can’t petition about anything and everything¿. What the law says is that the voters get to petition articles¿only if those issues are things that the voters have authority over.”

In addition to local issues this year, there are petitions for resolutions to stop the sale of Vermont Yankee, stop the war in Afghanistan, oppose biogenetic foods, and decide whether homosexuality should be discussed in schools. Markowitz says the majority of select boards refuse to include these kinds of resolutions.

Markowitz says there’s a lot of behind the scenes work going on as select boards prepare for town meeting.

She says writing the warning for the meeting can be tricky. It’s not unusual for voters to be thrown by confusing wording. Sometimes a ‘yes’ vote can be a vote against an item.

On Town Meeting Day, moderators are faced with the time consuming and difficult job of try to explain the intent of a poorly worded warning.

(Markowitz) “We always encourage our communities to get the select boards and the moderators together. Because the moderator, particularly if it’s a moderator with some experience under his or her belt, knows what is going to work and what’s not going to work¿. It’s surprising how often the first time the moderator looks at the warning is when he or she gets the town report.”

Markowitz says there are two important town meeting deadlines coming up. Petitions to have articles considered at town meeting have to be turned in by January 24. The deadline for submitting nominating petitions for town officers elected by Australian ballot is January 28.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel.

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