I know that as you read this some towns have already had their town meeting, but for most of the towns, it’s a month or so away. Every piece of business in your town for the coming year is going to be decided at your town meeting. Every piece.

 

If you’ve decided to attend and participate, it seems like you should have some idea what you are voting on. I often hear people complain that they don’t get their town report which has the town meeting warrant in it until just before town meeting and they don’t have time to study the issues. Those folks get no sympathy here.

 

If you attended selectmen’s meetings as the budget was put together and articles for the warrant were prepared, you would be in on the ground floor. Anything to do with money goes to the budget committee and you can go to those meetings, as well. If you missed all the selectmen’s meetings and all the budget committee meetings, you still can get informed. Once the town meeting warrant is posted, which is well over a month before town meeting, you can get a copy from the town office.

 

Now that you have your warrant, what do you do with it? Read the articles one by one. A lot of them are little more than housekeeping business, but some of them may be significant issues in your town. You can see how much it costs for highway maintenance, fire protection, ambulance, town office, etc. You can also see big purchases that are up for vote or ordinance changes that require a vote of the people. Often these ordinance changes require a public hearing so if it’s something you’re interested in you will know about it early and have a chance to attend the hearing and maybe speak your mind.

 

You might ask how does that help me if I don’t understand a particular article? Here’s the really important part. You can work on the understanding change that I spoke about in the previous article (“Change requires awareness; understanding results in action,” Herald Gazette, April 20).

First stop should probably be the town office or maybe a member of the board of selectmen. A word of caution here. Occasionally boards will put items on the warrant for town meeting that they do not support. The reason for that is that they feel the voters need to have their say on this particular subject regardless of how the board feels.

For the most part, if an article is on the town meeting warrant it has the support of the department head, town manager and board of selectmen, so when you go to get information from them, it’s going to be very one sided. Nothing wrong with that at all, but just understand that any answers or explanations you get will be coming from a certain perspective.

I think it’s important to add right here that municipal department heads, town managers and boards of selectmen almost always feel there is way more need for services than there is money to support those services. People rarely call up to say the snow plow came by too often or too many fire trucks and firefighters showed up at their fire. They probably never say the ambulance arrived too soon or the people in the town office processed their auto registration too quickly. So, from a municipal standpoint, there is more need than money.

The next step is even more difficult and that is to start asking people how they feel about this article or that article. You have to qualify the people and then you have to figure out if their position is sound. Nobody said getting involved would be easy. I don’t know if you’ve ever attended a town meeting or voted on an article that you had no clue about or not, but if you have it seems like you would much rather cast your vote after some research instead of looking around to see who votes which way. I’ve seen the late hand people. They wait to see how the majority votes and they raise their hand late. That’s not really being a part of democracy, folks.

Town meeting is a wonderful opportunity to participate in democracy at the grass root level and we’re fortunate to still hold on to this form of local government. Remember, when you ask yourself throughout the year, “How did this happen?” or “Where did they get the money for that?” it happened at town meeting and if you ask yourself those questions, either you weren’t there or you weren’t paying attention.

 

Bill Packard lives in Union.