As I continue to ponder Representative Town Meeting system used by Brattleboro, I find myself coming to the same conclusion: it either needs to be reformed, or it needs to go.
The biggest problem is representation. While voters can elect “representatives” to participate in Representative Town Meeting, there is almost no representation going on. Unlike selectboard candidates, reps rarely state to voters what they stand for. Reps rarely hold district meetings to discuss issues. Voting records of reps aren’t tallied or made public. And almost all the information reps take to Representative Town Meeting is given to them by town officials, not constituents.
Voters, despite picking names on district ballots, often don’t know who represents them, how to reach them, or how those reps have voted. Writing in names of people better known to a voter has been eliminated, unless that person is deemed “official” through registering as a candidate. Sometimes reps get slots through the caucus process, under the radar of most district voters.
There is almost no accountability in this system.
NOTICE OF MEETING
The Windham Southeast School District Amendment and Policy Committee will meet at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 5 at the WSESU Central Office, 53 Green Street, Brattleboro.
I. CALL TO ORDER – 9:30 a.m. – Kristina Naylor
II. Approval of October 15, 2019 Minutes
This is Part II of the story of Representative Town Meeting in Brattleboro. You can read Part I: Origins and Adoption here. Representative Town Meeting passed, but not everyone approved of the outcome. One of its critics was Edgar Lawton. Although we don’t hear much about Edgar Lawton today, his name is ever-present in the minutes and agendas of Selectboard and Town Meeting reports throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Why does Brattleboro have Representative Town Meeting? Why not a regular, open Town Meeting like the rest of Vermont? These questions led me on a search through old newspapers and town records to look at Brattleboro’s town meetings in the 1950’s to see if there was some obvious answer. It turns out, there was no single reason that led to the “representative form of government” in Brattleboro. There were many factors, personalities, and coincidences unique to Brattleboro that contributed to its adoption.
Arguments made in favor of representative town meeting were sometimes specific to Brattleboro, such as outgrowing the public meeting hall. Other times they were more lofty, arguing that representative government would be more fair and better able to deal with complex issues, while giving voters a greater say in how the town operates.