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Forum, Nov. 3: Royalton’s special vote on Tuesday

Published: 11/2/2019 10:00:22 PM
Modified: 11/2/2019 10:00:20 PM
Royalton’s special vote on Tuesday

At a special meeting on Tuesday, at 7 p.m., at the Academy Building, Royalton voters will be asked to approve Australian ballot voting on “public questions” during Town Meeting starting next March. The question will be decided on the floor.

Expressing my opinion as a private citizen, I am not in support of this proposal, for several reasons.

First, I don’t want to see Town Meeting become less engaging as a public forum, and think this could lead to lower attendance. Royalton’s Selectboard says the proposal would make it more democratic because more voters would be able to weigh in. The numbers are on their side, in one sense: At last March’s Town Meeting, the public question to change the term of the town clerk from one to three years was approved by paper ballot, 74-40, while more than 300 people typically vote for officers by Australian ballot at Town Meeting. If this proposal is approved, however, I fear even fewer voters would attend the annual meeting, vote on budgets and appropriations and hear the reports of officers.

Second, although state statues were changed to allow discussion on the floor for certain ballot articles, the previous rule that disallowed discussion gave weight to the persuasive element of hearing other people’s opinions, which would not reach those who vote on the ballot only and don’t attend Town Meeting. I always thought the old rule had sound reason.

Third, this kind of important change in the democratic process should be decided at Town Meeting itself, not at a special meeting, which typically draws only 25-40 people. When I asked the Selectboard about this, the reply was that “more people would be able to vote for articles on the ballot.” That’s not an answer to my question. It’s only repeating the reason for the change.

What article might we see on the ballot in 2020 that couldn’t wait for another year?

The math is on the side of my argument here, I think. I would be happy to be proved wrong by seeing a great turnout on Tuesday.



It may be legal, but it’s swampy

Swampy but legal is a rotten standard, and that’s as true for our fair valley as it is in any seat of government.

I like amphibians mighty fine, myself, but I don’t want to live in their habitat, actual or metaphorical, and I’m starting to feel I should always wear Wellies for wandering around the Lebanon Mall. Our city parents are over-obsessed with it, and perhaps that’s a natural outcome of having too many personal interests centered on one small area of our metropolis.

I’ve been assured the lawyers aren’t troubled, and that really troubles me because it’s too narrow a standard. There are infinite ways of not doing the right thing and plenty of them aren’t against the laws a locality may have enacted.

If we had endless pots of free money, then vanity projects would merely be laughable. But City Hall seems to have a long and growing history of failing the general populace while indulging the whims of a tiny minority of the citizenry, and that’s no joke.

One needn’t be a venal wrongdoer to greatly fail in one’s duties. One just needs to willfully keep one’s blinkers on as the ground grows ever squelchier underfoot.



Kindness essential to our democracy

Former President Barack Obama, in his eloquent eulogy for Rep. Elijah Cummings, described him as a strong and kind man. There is “nothing weak about kindness and compassion,” he said. Contrast this with President Donald Trump’s “might makes right” perspective and his view that a person’s intrinsic worth is tied to worldly success and to power.

Kindness means being civil to each other, showing regard for others. It’s a formal expression of respect. Civility represents a long tradition of moral virtues essential to democracy. On the national political stage, it often seems in short supply. With the 2020 election coming up, civility and kindness need to be in the forefront. I fear that the intensity of emotions will lead to violent and hateful language, which can inflame people of both parties. If allowed to prevail, it will tear us apart.

We’ve all seen examples of incivility: rudeness and debasement, meanness, unfounded accusations, unchecked bullying. Such behavior happens on both sides of the aisle, but is most evident with Trump. It’s notable that Trump prides himself on punching back against perceived enemies, publicly suggesting that “spies” and “traitors” and people who turn “rat” deserve to have their lives and their families destroyed.

In his book Tribe, Sebastian Junger captures my concern: “My friend Ellis was once asked by a troubled young boy whether there was any compelling reason for him not to pull the legs off a spider. Ellis said there was. ‘Well spiders don’t feel any pain,’ the boy retorted. ‘It’s not the spider I’m worried about,’ Ellis said.”

I think it’s important to remember past examples of civility and kindness: President George W. Bush’s remarks after 9/11 that, despite our anger, Muslims need to be treated with respect. President George H.W. Bush’s pledge of a “kinder, gentler nation.” Obama’s reference to “Kindness; empathy — that sense that I have a stake in your success.”

Let’s commit ourselves to the goal: “Make America Kind Again.”


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