West Windsor Town Meeting Follows Tradition

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(Host) The sun was out and the sidewalk was sanded at West Windsor’s town meeting on Tuesday.

VPR has been visiting West Windsor for the past few years as an example of the traditional town meeting, and to take the pulse of this basic building block of democracy.

And indications are that Town Meeting is still alive and well in West Windsor.

VPR’s Betty Smith has more.

(Smith) A vase of bright flowers stands by the lectern on a folding table in the front of the room.  Eight rows of folding metal chairs fill quickly, as do a couple dozen wooden chairs around the perimeter.  There’s an atmosphere of cheerful practicality as neighbors greet neighbors. A woman pulls out her knitting.  

(Birmingham) Raps gavel

(Smith) Shortly after nine, Town Moderator Matt Birmingham calls the meeting to order and one hundred and sixty five West Windsor voters elect town officials, set tax policy and approve school and town budgets for the year.

Discussion is informed, respectful, and often witty.  Occasionally it even gets a bit – well – personal.

(Birmingham reveals it’s the town clerk’s birthday, to much applause.)

Then a group of second graders from the nearby Albert Bridge School, report that they’ve been interviewing various town leaders about their work.

(Student talks about editing the project)

(Smith) Getting back to town business, voters approve the use of a surplus to put a new slate roof on the library and to create a multi-use town forest plan. This year the item generating the most debate has to do with a piece of land currently owned by the Ascutney Ski Area that abuts the town forest and is popular for recreation use.  The select board is encouraged to explore the possibility of buying it.

There’s something remarkably reassuring about a traditional town meeting, especially in these chaotic times.

It’s an interesting mix of old and new, of trust in yourself and your neighbors to manage the business of the town. It takes a strong sense of place, a healthy measure of voter confidence and a dash of optimism about the future.   

And according to moderator Birmingham…

(Birmingham) Comments about democracy, the full room, and knowing how to do it now and 100 years from now…

(Smith) For now, Town Meeting is adjourned and it’s time for soup, sandwiches and pie in the church basement up the road.

For VPR News, I’m Betty Smith in West Windsor.

Visit VPR’s Town Meeting Day page for full coverage


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