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BRATTLEBORO — Changes to Representative Town Meeting are being pushed by some Town Meeting members.

“I want more than just a jamboree class reunion,” said Gary Stroud, a Town Meeting member and member of the activist group Brattleboro Common Sense’s board of directors. “Let’s see how we can collaborate in District 1, 2 and 3.”

Stroud is suggesting having more meetings each year and potentially creating a warrant committee, an idea proposed as a one-year experiment in an op-ed by Chris Grotke on ibrattleboro.com as a way for more voters to be involved and give more authority to Town Meeting members.

Grotke said 15 or more Town Meeting members would consider budget requests and deem what appropriations are necessary for the proposed budget, relieving the Select Board of the heavy workload of budgeting and allowing it to spend more time on policy. In his view, that would lead to more interest in Town Meeting member positions and those elections in general.

“And if 10 voters were allowed to get something on the agenda, the problems and confusion of advisory motions at the end of the meeting might be dispensed with,” he wrote, adding that Town Meeting members would need to pay closer attention to the operation of the town throughout the year, and the Warrant Committee would give the informational sessions to fellow Town Meeting members each year rather than the Select Board.

Stroud said he’d like to kick the idea around a little at annual RTM being held via Zoom on Saturday. He wants to bring it up to the Select Board and Town Attorney Bob Fisher as well.

At a Select Board meeting held remotely Tuesday, Stroud asked if recommendations in the Community Safety Review report commissioned by the town to look at policing and other systems would be discussed Saturday. He had been hoping to talk about them but they’re not on the warning, although he anticipates there will be discussion when progress on implementation is reported at upcoming board meetings. He would like Town Meeting members to have more say in crafting the RTM warning.

For years, BCS board member Kurt Daims has been trying to organize a united effort to have Town Meeting members bring forward more proposals at annual Representative Town Meeting rather than just vote on articles warned by the Select Board. He likes to point to a section in the town charter which calls RTM “a guiding body for the town and a source of proposals, ideas and commentary.”

“I think when our problems are big and getting bigger, we need to have those people at RTM,” he said. “All those people who want to help, we need them.”

After feeling disrespected about what he sees as a lack of urgency around a climate emergency declaration his group has proposed for years, Daims said he wants reform for RTM. He recalled a resolution his group proposed from the floor in 2010 aimed to have the town invest in Cow Power, a Green Mountain Power program where electric customers pay 4 cents more per kilowatt on their bills with the extra money going to pay farmers to convert methane on their farms into electricity.

“It was soundly beat, I think by 2-1,” he said.

The following year a similar resolution was defeated by what Daims called “a less discouraging vote.” He said for a couple of years afterwards, there wasn’t a quorum left for other business, which is reserved for the end of the meeting.

At RTM in March 2019, a nonbinding resolution from his group for the town to invest in renewable sources such as Cow Power passed under other business. An article encouraging renewable energy sources be sought for new and renovated municipal buildings endorsed by 350 Vermont, a climate activist group, also was approved in a town-wide vote the same month.

Daims said it has taken three years for the town to move forward with the resolution and invest in Cow Power. He believes it was unnecessarily delayed.

After RTM, town staff started looking into Cow Power or subsidizing a local renewable energy project. Citing the complexity of energy issues, staff suggested the town sustainability coordinator and Energy Committee take the lead, a move supported by the Select Board in February 2020.

Earlier this month, the board voted unanimously to purchase 6 percent of its electricity every year through Cow Power and create a new clean energy fund. Daims said he has mixed feelings about the decision, worrying the fund is just a way to save money rather than address climate issues and wanting the town’s entire electric portfolio to be completely renewable. With the purchase of Cow Power approved by the board, the town can claim to be completely carbon neutral in its electricity.

At the meeting where the board opted to participate in Cow Power, Board Chairman Tim Wessel said Daims planted “a seed that has grown” but Daims didn’t feel his group or RTM received enough credit. He wanted to be more included in the discussion, saying he could answer questions the Energy Committee did not.

Daims has expressed frustration with other business being reserved for the end of the meeting, when it becomes less likely to have a quorum, and how items approved during this time are not considered binding. At the informational meeting last week, he voiced displeasure with time being limited for caucuses when new Town Meeting members are nominated and issues are discussed within each district, whereas there’s no deadline for concluding talk on the articles warned by the board.

Daims also compared muting people on Zoom, a practice used until someone is recognized to speak, to “gagging them.” He said there are some privileged motions such as a point of order that need to be called out immediately.

Rikki Risatti, another Town Meeting member, has called for a signal used on the teleconferencing platform to indicate a point of order. But the idea was deemed impractical by the town moderator as it would require constant scrolling through a list of participants to look for the signal on top of other tasks being performed by the assistant town manager.

At 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, Daims plans to hold Zoom meetings for people who want to discuss RTM and related issues. Links will be provided by contacting info@BrattleboroCommonSense.org.

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