(Host) Once a year, town moderators dust off their rules of order and take their places in front of the voters at town meetings. It’s an important, but unheralded job. Most moderators labor in relative obscurity.
VPR’s Steve Zind visited one town meeting Monday night where the moderator is quite well known.
(Zind) The scene is being played out across Vermont this week. The moderator brings the meeting to order and proceeds through the warning item by item, asking for questions and calling for votes.
(Governor Jim Douglas) “The legal voters of the Town of Middlebury in the County of the Addison, the State of Vermont are hereby warned and notified….”
(Zind) It’s not a glamorous job. But Middlebury’s moderator gets a little more attention than most.
(Speaker) “Thank you, Jim. And thank you all for coming on this bitterly cold evening. First I would hope all of you would join me in welcoming Governor Jim Douglas, our moderator this evening.” (Sound of applause.)
(Zind) Jim Douglas has been moderator in Middlebury since 1986. This year it’s a little different. This is Douglas’ first town meeting as governor of Vermont. In spite of his demanding day job, Douglas says he’ll stay on as moderator as long as the voters of Middlebury will have him.
(Douglas) “I’ve done this for a long time and I really enjoy the opportunity to participate in local government.”
(Zind) Judging from the reception from the hometown crowd and the fact he’s never been opposed as moderator, this is probably one elected office Douglas won’t have to worry about losing.
There are about 150 people at Monday night’s town meeting. Ray Cassidy says Douglas knows most of them.
(Cassidy) “He knows 90% of the people by their first name around Middlebury. It’s amazing. He’s got a great memory for names.”
(Douglas) “Questions of the chairman? Pete Jepson.”
(Pete Jepson) “What’s the advantage of the town paying cash for vehicles, if we can borrow money at 2%?”
(Zind) For a change, the governor isn’t the one being grilled by voters. But Douglas says he doesn’t mind it when he is buttonholed at town meeting out on the street.
(Douglas) “One of the dangers of my position is I feel isolated sometimes. Going from one meeting to the next in the office, somewhat insulated from society at large. So I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to see people and talk to them one on one.”
(Zind) Douglas presided over a quiet town meeting Monday night. Middlebury’s municipal budget is up about 8% over last year, but there’s little discussion before it’s passed. The school budget won’t be voted on until May.
Douglas carries out his moderator duties with ease. There is only one gubernatorial moment: near the end of the meeting, candidates for local offices introduce themselves to the voters.
(Douglas) “Pete DeGraff. I’m running for the five-year term for the Ilsley Library.”
(Douglas) “Five-year term? Whew!” (Sound of laughter.)
(Zind) Douglas may be a familiar and approachable figure to the people of Middlebury, but Irene Barna also realize he’s not your average neighbor.
(Barna) “Almost everybody in town knows the governor now personally and that is, I think priceless. It’s precious and it’s priceless.”
(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Middlebury.