The New Town Meeting Cycle

When Hartford adopted its Charter in 2009, Town Meeting changed. The path to the current charter was mostly fueled by a desire to give everyone the chance to vote on the budgets the same way they had a chance to vote on candidates for the Selectboard and School Board. The charter commission struggled with what this would mean for the concept of town meeting, and with what to do if a budget were defeated.

Out of the first concern the commission created a standing committee separate from and not beholden to, but charged with working cooperatively with, the school, town and town clerk to coordinate and plan town meeting. Their work over the past 18 months has laid down a new pattern for the town meeting cycle in Hartford, described below.

Out of the second concern, the commission created a follow-up meeting 5 weeks after the voting day. This year it falls on Saturday April 6th. That will be as close as you get to the traditional town meeting.

We are a large and complex town and school district. In my opinion, having a single meeting day to discharge the annual business items didn’t work very well during the years I attended (1998 – 2009). We would see 400 people at most show up, the materials for discussion were not very well prepared, the presentations were not particularly well done, and the debates often got sidetracked by people who had no command of the facts and needed to be brought up to speed. I’m proud of the work done by the Town & School Meeting Committee, which I chaired until being elected to the Selectboard.

After 3 years with the Charter, here’s how Town Meeting works in Hartford:

1. Information Night

This meeting takes place on the first Monday following New Year’s Holiday (which sometimes happens on Jan 2 or 3 if Jan 1 is a Saturday or Sunday). Typically this happens in the High School Auditorium 7pm – 9 pm. The Town Moderator runs the meeting.

This meeting is an opportunity to hear about big items that might be on the warrant. For example, this coming year we will probably have some kind of bond for the municipal building renovation, and possibly for some recreational facilities in town. Last year we talked about the TIF district, the PACE district, but, unfortunately, not the West Hartford bond that was put on the ballot at the last minute with no advance warning.

This meeting accomplishes four things: one, it pushes the boards to get their ducks in order two weeks before their deadline for setting the warrants. Two, it gives presenters an opportunity to see how the audience responds. Three, the boards get feedback on the language being suggested for the ballot in plenty of time to make changes to clarify things. Four, it creates a television show voters can watch on CATV or on the internet to inform themselves on their own schedule.

2. Budget Presentation and Candidates Night

This meeting takes place on the Monday 8 days before Voting Day. Typically this happens in the High School Auditorium 7pm – 9pm. The TownModerator runs the meeting. which is designed to focus on the main things being voted on, the budgets and the candidates. In odd years, the school budget is first, in even years the town budget. Each budget gets 20 minutes, and then candidates for office get 3 to 5 minutes. After that, the floor is open to questions about either of the budgets or to the candidates.

This meeting, like Information Night, creates a TV show for CATV.

3. Community Day

This meeting takes place on the Saturday before Voting Day. Typically this happens in the High School Gym from 10am Р2pm. The Town Moderator runs the meeting, which has a morning session and an afternoon session. During the lunch break, one of the elementary school PTOs provides an inexpensive lunch.

Last year, the morning session was devoted to Public Hearings on the Quechee Bridge Bond, the West Hartford Public Library restoration bond, the TIF district, the PACE energy district, and the school bond. The afternoon session was a candidate roundtable.

Note: before the Charter, this meeting was the meeting where people voted in person on the budgets. When the budgets went to the Voting Day balloting, this meeting disappeared. It was brought back by the Town & School Meeting Committee in 2012 with the new format.

This is another meeting that CATV films. Both Candidates Night and Community Day are running on CATV today and Monday, and are available online anytime at http://www.catv8.org/videos-demand.html

4. Voting Day

Voting Day takes place on Vermont Town Meeting Day, the first Tuesday in March. “Town Meeting Day” is a school and municipal holiday in Vermont.

In Hartford, all voting takes place at Hartford High School from 7am to 7pm.

Voting is by Australian Ballot (aka secret ballot).

5. Floor Meeting Day

Floor Meeting Day takes place on the 5th Saturday following Voting Day. Typically this happens in the High School Gym from 10am – 2pm. This is the first year it is a Saturday meeting; that is one of the technical changes put into the charter. It had been a Monday night meeting.

This meeting consists of two portions, Town School District Annual Floor Meeting and Town Operational Annual Floor Meeting. The respective boards convene and the Town Moderator conducts the voting and discussion of the warned articles. Typically the School will go first in Odd years, the Town in Even years, but this can be adjusted to fit circumstances.

The main reason this meeting exists is in case a budget is voted down. In that case, the budget will be voted at this meeting by those registered voters in attendance when the vote comes up.

In order to force this meeting to be held, the charter requires that the pay for the Selectboard and School Board be set at this meeting. The Selectboard, by policy, also puts all article for charitable appropriations of less than $1,000 on the warrant. Public interest questions may also appear on these warrants; this year their is one on gun control.

As with the other meetings, this too is filmed by CATV.

The Town & School Meeting Committee role is to work with the School and Selectboards to learn what issues may appear on the warrants and organize Information Night, get posters up around town, keep all the presenters, board members and moderator informed. Then they get out the reminder postcard listing these dates, put up the road signs reminding people of town meeting day (should the signs say Voting Day?), put up posters about Candidate Night, Community Day, organize those meetings and keep participants informed about the agendas and their roles, and finally do the same for Floor Meeting Day. The Committee is a Charter-created committee that is jointly appointed by the Town Clerk (1 member), School Board (2 members) and Selectboard (2 members). Its activities are jointly funded by the Town and School. To participate send an email to HTSMC@hartford-vt.org

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