Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New England town meetings provide examples for the rest of the nation, British correspondent says

Many New England towns still use their original political system of town meetings, which could teach the rest of the nation, including many in Congress, how to get things done while including the voices of anyone interested in throwing in their two cents. For his weekly "Lexington" column about the U.S., David Rennie of The Economist went to the meeting in Duxbury, Vt., where "all adult residents are invited to become legislators for a day, electing dozens of office-holders and debating the fine details of budgets, such as which brand of dump truck to buy."
Duxbury is in red on left map (Wikipedia)

"The impressive part is how Duxbury deals with conflict," Rennie writes. "Deep differences are often visible, as old-time conservatives butt heads with liberal newcomers, or pony-tailed professionals compete for election against retirees in check shirts. Sometimes transparency is painful, as when votes are held by a show of hands, forcing neighbor to snub neighbor. There is a lot of grumbling. As Duxbury’s elected moderator drily asked at one point, as he attempted to press on with the agenda: 'Is everyone relatively happy?'”

"But transparency also eases distrust: some of the angriest interventions turned out to have roots in a misunderstanding," Rennie reports. "The mere fact of being allowed to air grievances left several speakers visibly mollified and willing to bow to the consensus in the room. All those hours sitting on hard chairs in a school canteen left Duxbury residents weary. But the repeated votes and endless discussions also left them with a personal stake in the running of the town for the coming year."

"It would be hard to replicate town meeting elsewhere," Rennie writes. "Vermont is a curious state, where good manners and civic spirit co-exist with curmudgeonly individualism and self-reliance. But there is no need to clone town meeting for its example to do some good." University of Vermont political scientist Frank Bryan, who conducted a study of about 1,500 New England town meetings, writes: "If town meeting teaches anything, it is how to suffer damn fools and to appreciate the fact that from time to time you too may look like a damn fool in the eyes of people as good as yourself.'” (Read more)

For a news story on the meetings in Duxbury and other towns in the Mad River Valley, from The Valley Reporter, click here.

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