Letter: How Hartford Destroyed Town Meeting

To the Editor:

For the last few years, the Hartford Charter Revision Commission has been strangling the goose that lays the golden egg, while town officials pretend to be dumfounded about the absence of golden eggs. It almost makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

A thousand people used to show up for Town Meeting. Now we are lucky if 100 people show up.

For 200 years, the New England town meeting served as a magnet for getting citizens to come together, debate and then vote immediately at that very meeting on how their own taxes are to be spent. Three or four years ago, Hartford officials decided they knew better and under the guise of rewriting a new town charter for “21st century” citizens, they threw the whole Town Meeting formula out with the trash. And Hartford citizens blindly voted to let them do it.

The town gelded the Town Meeting: It separated the debate day from the vote day — turning Town Meeting into a polite debating society that has no power to vote budgets up or down.

Instead, voting, which used to take place in a dramatic voice vote in the Hartford gym right then and there, now takes place four days later in something aptly called the “Australian ballot.” It’s apt because “Australia” is about as far from New England and its 200-year-old democratic structure as you can get.

I’m not going to beat my head against a stone wall trying to breathe life into the dying golden goose or try to perform surgery in order to reverse the gelding of New England democracy.

I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing for 50 years — write about what I see.

I see a new generation taking old-world values and trading them in for new-world values simply because they are new. Pretty soon Twitter and Facebook will have taken over Town Meeting, and we won’t even have to leave our living rooms to vote. “Community” will be replaced with “virtual networking.”

“All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?”

Paul D. Keane

White River Junction