Town Meeting 2016: Gartenstein re-elected to Selectboard

David Gartenstein is running for town moderator.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

BRATTLEBORO — If elected to be the next town moderator, David Gartenstein’s main goals would be to make sure annual Representative Town Meeting runs smoothly, everyone is heard, and the decision of the group is based on debate and consideration of all available information.

“I really come in with no agenda other than advocating for the integrity of the town meeting process,” he said.

Gartenstein, a deputy state’s attorney in Windham County, is running against Kurt Daims in the March 1 election. Daims serves as a board director for Brattleboro Common Sense and is a climate activist.

Gartenstein said he’s always been interested in serving as moderator. He praised “the excellent work” of the three prior moderators he had seen elected to the position — Ralph Chapman, Tim O’Connor, and Lawrin Crispe, who announced in November that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection after a decade of service.

“I aspire to be able to do as good a job as they did,” Gartenstein said.

Gartenstein counted hundreds of public meetings where he chaired the Brattleboro Select Board and Development Review Board, and in which he would convene the meetings and work to ensure anyone who wanted to speak had their chance. He also served on school boards governing the elementary schools and high school.

Acknowledging that people won’t always agree, Gartenstein said making sure everyone is free to express their views and respectfully heard is an important part of the democratic process. He sees the moderator’s job as intended to ensure “everyone is enfranchised and that everybody has faith in a government that’s responsive to all of us.”

“In my role as chair of those boards, I stressed more than anything else making sure that everybody had a chance to engage fully,” he said. “And this moderator position would put into effect those same skills and priorities.”

As a prosecutor, Gartenstein is used to participating in virtual meetings like annual Representative Town Meeting will be again this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminal trials are happening in person but a wide range of other hearings have been occurring remotely for two full years now, he said.

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

“It was a difficult transition at first but I’m sure that we can effectively moderate a meeting virtually if that’s what’s going to keep us all safe and healthy,” he said.

Gartenstein noted he’d also have the support of town officials and others with information technology (IT) skills in helping make the meeting happen.

“An in-person meeting is historically the way we run town meeting,” he said. “Having people deliberating together is certainly preferred but I totally defer the decision that’s been made to have the meeting virtually and absolutely agree it’s what’s necessary for us to do it safely and in a healthy way.”

The Select Board, which decided to host the meeting remotely for a third year in a row, is responsible for coming up with the warned articles for consideration including budgetary items and those petitioned by voters. After the articles are decided upon at the meeting comes a period dedicated to other business.

Gartenstein said the town meeting structure provides for binding action to be taken when issues have been properly warned, not just for the Town Meeting members but anyone who lives in town.

“When matters are raised during other business, they can take a lot of different forms and really the difference is between binding and nonbinding action,” he said. “I would do my best based on my experience in town government to try and determine what is binding and nonbinding action, and would also rely on and consult with the town attorney, and then make a decision what’s binding and nonbinding to the extent that that’s necessary.”

Asked if he’s doing anything to prepare to serve as moderator if elected, Gartenstein said he’s keeping abreast of the issues that will be coming up at the meeting and doing research/background work. He’s again working his way through Robert’s Rules of Order, which the meeting relies on for parliamentary procedure.

“The purpose of Robert’s Rules is to make sure large groups of people can make decisions in an organized way, and that’s our role at Town Meeting,” he said.