Town Meeting, as many commentators have said, is "democracy being practiced in its purest form." It is the day when all the legal voters of a town have an opportunity to air their grievances; a day when true town business is addressed; and the source of a much-needed social respite towards the end of a long Vermont winter.
Vermont law stipulates that Town Meeting must be held on the first Tuesday in March (the meeting may actually start on any of the three preceding days if voters so decide). 17 V.S.A. § 2640. However, it is important to note that all nine cities in Vermont, as well as 16 of the towns, have special charters or charter amendments which may allow them to set different dates for Town Meeting.
There are a number of statutorily required items that a municipality must vote on at Town Meeting. They include:
A town can choose in many cases, but not all, to vote on issues by Australian ballot (pre-printed, paper ballots), rather than from the floor of Town Meeting. 24 V.S.A. §2680.
In order to vote on an issue at Town Meeting, the articles must be properly "warned" prior to the meeting. This means that the town must place the voters on alert "by posting a warning and notice in at least two public places in the town, and in or near the town clerk’s office, not less than 30 nor more than 40 days before the meeting." 17 V.S.A. § 2641(a). There are also publishing requirements that require five to ten days’ notice, depending on the method selected. Id at (b). There are other limitations on what can be done at Town Meeting: the voters cannot take action on an improperly warned article, they cannot do things which are the responsibility of town officers, nor can town officers be removed from their jobs or told how to do them.
Each year, the town shall elect a moderator, whose job it is to ". . . decide questions of order and shall make public declaration of votes taken, except in elections using the Australian ballot system." In addition, the moderator shall "preserve order," and may cause to be removed "persistently disorderly" persons. 17 V.S.A. §§ 2657-59.
Town Meeting has evolved over the years from a freewheeling sort of get-together into an important meeting where town government, the lives of real people, and the transfer of a great deal of money all intersect. Vermonters should treasure Town Meeting as an opportunity to add their two cents to democracy – a chance that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Local officials can contact VLCT at (802) 229-9111 or firstname.lastname@example.org