3.3.2017 – Town Meeting Week

Town Meeting week is one of my favorite parts of the Legislative Session. Visiting with constituents is always a great pleasure even if I am put on the “hot seat”. It’s also nice to be at home for a week and catch up with things in my “other” life.

The big news this year is that the Town of Athens has moved its Town Meeting from Tuesday to Saturday, Mar. 4 at 10 AM. This will relieve some of the pressure for us on Tuesday but will mean that Rep. Matt Trieber and I will get to the Westminster Town Meeting a little later than usual on Saturday. One of the joys of the Westminster meeting is that there are yummy baked goods and fruit cups for sale in the high school cafeteria thanks to Westminster Cares. While we enjoy the goodies, we are joined by Westminster residents who want to visit with us.

On Monday evening, we will attend the Rockingham Town Meeting at the Bellows Falls Opera House. Typically, we get there a little early, once again, to visit with people who want to have a word with us.

Tuesday will see us in Brookline at 9:30 AM where we will give a report at 10 AM sharp if the voters allow us to interrupt the orders of the day. We typically give a brief report, answer questions, and listen to any comments and concerns that people have. Then it’s on to Grafton hoping that we get there before they adjourn. For the last few years, Grafton has run such an efficient meeting that even if we get there by 11 AM, they are already done! I think part of their secret to success is that the election of their officers is done by Australian ballot. It means a longer day for the election officials but speeds up the actual meeting significantly.

The next stop is Windham where we will enjoy a great lunch and visit with my neighbors. We then head for the polls in Rockingham where we chat with candidates and constituents in front of the Masonic Temple. It’s a big day but well worth the ideas and feedback we get.

Most people know how to contact us if the need arises but I find they are more likely to speak up if we are right there. Typically, we create and hand out Town Meeting Reports that are meant to give folks an idea of what’s going on in the State House. We usually include a small clip and save piece that contains all of our contact information.

I happily write this having returned from the Athens and Westminster meetings. I knew there would be questions in Athens regarding the creation of a State Bank, so I went prepared with a memo from the State Treasurer, Beth Pearce, describing why a State Bank is a risky proposition that doesn’t make sense for Vermont at this time. It is estimated that it would cost well over $350 million to capitalize a Vermont State Bank – money that we don’t have at this point. I find that Beth is a straight-forward, no-nonsense sort of person who knows her topic well and takes her responsibility very seriously.

Another commenter expressed concern about the shift by the governor of more expenses (teachers’ retirement, higher education, and childcare) to the Education Fund and felt that Education Fund expenses should be limited to Kindergarten through 12th grade. While the mentioned expenses might be educationally-related, increases in the Education Fund drive up property taxes, something about which we hear complaints. In the past, the prescribed General Fund transfer to the Education Fund has been shortchanged, so there is a certain amount of skittishness about any proposal that shifts costs to the Education Fund.

One person asked about the TD Bank situation and a desire for the State to engage a new bank. The current contract with TD Bank started in 2010 and will expire soon. The Treasurer issued a Request for Proposal last October and is currently in the midst of a competitive bid process for comprehensive banking services for the State. When that process is done, Beth has been clear that she will be willing to discuss the process by which a decision was made.

In Westminster, the conversation was more centered on the Act 46 vote. There seems to be great concern about what such a consolidation would mean to the educational opportunity for their children.

One person visited with me about a way to bed down cattle that would be more conducive to cattle health, eliminate the need for manure lagoons, and improve water quality. Other folks wanted to talk about regenerative agriculture, which focuses on soil health. It is a topic my committee, House Agriculture and Forestry, has heard about in testimony and something we will be looking at more closely in the future.

These opportunities to visit with constituents are priceless. I love being able to respond and sometimes help folks with problems they may be having. I also appreciate the ideas that a shared, which I can take back to Montpelier with me.

For me, Town Meeting is one of the purest forms of democracy. Citizens have the opportunity to discuss the future of their towns, disagree respectfully, and resolve issues civilly. I always encourage communication because that’s how we all learn. Together, we govern!