Vt. towns take varying approaches to in-person town meetings

Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 12:14 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2022 at 12:26 PM EST
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Vt. (WCAX) - While many Vermonters are hitting the polls this Town Meeting Day, some communities are holding their meetings in person this year.

Tuesday was another pandemic Town Meeting Day across Vermont. And like last year, each municipality chose its own format to conduct business.

In Northfield, voters made their voice heard only through Australian ballot and no in-person debates. But with vaccines and declining coronavirus case counts, there were no pandemic restrictions at the polls. “It’s good to see people from this side. It’s good to see people become a bit more comfortable -- if not fully comfortable -- without a mask,” said Lea Hatch with the Northfield Board of Civil Authority

Up the road in Montpelier, all voting is always done by Australian ballot. But unlike last year, they were not able to mail out ballots ahead of time because the school district was not on-board. “The City Council, myself, and the school board hope we can return to mailing them out to every voter,” said Montpelier City Clerk John Odum.

Roughly three-quarters of Vermont cities and towns are conducting their annual business exclusively by Australian ballot or pushing the meeting back to the spring. But some towns have returned to in-person meetings. Williamstown voted on several issues from the floor Tuesday and elected town and school officers via Australian ballot. And the annual bake sale was back, too.

For other towns like Ryegate, it was business as usual, gathering in a single room with a wood stove to catch up with old friends and debate local issues.

For local resident D.J. Nelson, whose family owns a quarry that sells to the town, it was all business. “They talk about how much money the town spends and this and that, and where they go and where they buy their stones for the road and stuff like that,” Nelson said.

Ryegate Assistant Town Clerk Marsha Nelson says they were not expecting such a big crowd but they’re glad they came. “It was almost a full house and that felt wonderful. You forget about the masks, you forget about COVID, you see people you haven’t seen in two years,” she said.

Town Meeting Day also gives state lawmakers a chance to catch up with constituents, updating them on Statehouse issues including redistricting, constitutional amendments, and investing millions in federal cash. “I think people are eager to discuss politics face-to-face and get back to the way communities deal with political issues,” said Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange County.

Communities coming together and exercising local direct democracy.

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