Town Meeting voters to weigh in on wide range of issues

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(Host) Beginning this weekend Vermonters will be thumbing the pages of town reports, scrutinizing budgets and electing local officials.

Buried in those pages they may also find a few non-binding resolutions. This year voters will be asked to weigh in on issues ranging from water fluoridation to presidential impeachment.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Over the decades, non-binding resolutions have become an accepted part of many town meeting agendas, even if they’re not always welcome.

(Town meeting speaker) “We’re going to divide the town in two parts and it’s going to be very, very divisive.”


(Zind) The most widely considered resolution this year will be a ballot question asking the Governor and the legislature to avoid using money in the state education fund for purposes other than education. Backers are concerned some of the money will be used for transportation projects. The non-binding question will be on the ballot in more than one hundred towns.

One of the most controversial resolutions appears only on one community’s ballot. It would ask the City of Burlington to end a lease agreement allowing the Air National Guard to use the city owned airport.

One town in Vermont will consider a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush. Newfane Selectman Dan DeWalt came up with the resolution. Whether one town or one hundred towns considers an issue, DeWalt says town meeting votes on questions of national or international significance give people a voice.

(DeWalt) “It gives us a way to speak to our government which is more powerful than individuals. Vermont has been a leader in awakening the nation’s conscience. It’s an example to the country of what a democratic populace can do.”

(Zind) Opponents of water fluoridation also want to be heard in Burlington and Montpelier. Voters in both communities will consider advisory resolutions calling for a halt to the practice of water fluoridation of the town water supply.

At least thirty-one communities will take up a resolution asking the legislature to pass a parental notification law. It would require girls under 18 to notify a parent before having an abortion.

Guy Page is a member of a group that has led the effort to place the resolution on town meeting agendas. Page says the idea was inspired by last year’s resolution against the war in Iraq, which was approved in more than fifty towns. Page says town meeting is an effective way to petition the Vermont legislature.

(Page) “I don’t really know if the whole legislature will say, ‘oh gosh, as a body we have to do something’, but I think its very reasonable that the legislators in those towns say, ‘you know what, our people just told us very clearly that they wanted us to go in a certain direction.”

(Zind) Pro-choice groups oppose the resolution, but Page says his organization hasn’t taken a position on abortion – only on parental notification. Supporters of the resolution have taken the city of South Burlington to court for its refusal to place it on the town meeting ballot. In towns where the resolution will be considered, Page says his group had no problem getting enough signatures to put it on the agenda.

Page is concerned that legislation introduced in Montpelier could make it more difficult for citizens to get towns to consider resolution. A house bill would require at least 20% of the town’s registered voters to sign petitions requesting an item be added to the ballot. That’s compared to the 5% now required.

Democrat Shap Smith of Morrisville is the bill’s lead sponsor says he got quite a bit of feedback from people who object to raising the bar on what it takes to get a resolution on the town meeting ballot.

(Smith) “I have to admit that I was a bit surprised, personally, at the outcry that it brought about (laughs).”

(Zind) Smith says the bill is really directed at requiring more signatures to bring about revotes and special elections and that he’d have no problem dropping the provision requiring that would affect resolutions.

The bill is currently in committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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