Democracy is alive and well in Brattleboro
Editor of the Reformer:
I have long considered Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting an amazing institution. It succeeds in preserving the atmosphere of the traditional Town Meeting in a larger urban setting. It remains largely apolitical, people are cordial and deferential to each other, and come together with the welfare of the town in mind. Indeed, there are few places in the world and the country where people are so involved and empowered as in Brattleboro. Yet recent statements in Town Meetings, information meetings and the press have challenged the democratic aspect of the representative Town Meeting and deserve some attention.
One accusation leveled against the Town Meeting Representatives is that they are not representative because they do not reflect qualitatively, and quantitatively, the wealth (or poverty) of Brattleboro's population. One can, of course, play on the many meanings of "representative" and conclude that the whole situation is flawed but two facts remain: 1) Town Meeting members were elected by the voters of the town to represent and take decisions for them; and 2) any registered voter, from any social class, who gathers the few required signatures is almost sure to be elected as there rarely are enough candidates to fill all the seats.
In a recent letter to the Reformer, many Town Meeting members were taken to task for voting (by Australian ballot) and then leaving a special Town Meeting on the new police station after only an hour-and-a-half of debate. Of course, most of them had attended a more than two hour long information meeting and were well aware of all the pros and the cons. The same writer opines that a town-wide vote would have reached a different (and better) conclusion. An interesting situation here: The town reps get scolded for not getting more fully informed and thus making a bad decision whereas the general population, unencumbered by all the facts, would have chosen the correct solution. This paradox may seem funny but it is not.
The people who question the validity and the usefulness of the representative Town Meeting do so because they believe that the struggling majority of the population is actually the true receptacle of social and civic wisdom. Thus the Town Meeting, which is in great part composed of well-meaning but financially better-off members, has lost touch with the will of the masses and has become corrupted.
A former Select Board member believes that the form of representative Town Meeting was created because the Select Board could not control the real Town Meeting of all Brattleboro voters — i.e. they were incorruptible. She furthermore described in the Reformer this new consciousness of the masses as the result of the "Bernie revolution."
I hope that each voter of the town who feels keenly about the present and the future of the town will make the effort, even for a few short years, to run for this office. All the voices of Brattleboro must and will be heard. In the end, however, decisions have bo be made, and while it cannot be expected that all decisions are unanimous, it should be expected that a thoughtful decision after a fair debate should be accepted and recognized by all.
Long live the Brattleboro representative Town Meeting.
Georges Herzog, Brattleboro, April 15