Ours started at 7PM last night. There were 29 warrant articles to discuss, mull over, and/or amend. While not the largest number of warrants articles we’ve seen, it was still a goodly number.
We finished at after 11PM.
I wish I could say the voters spent the 4+ hours going over each article in detail, showing due diligence and carefully shepherding our constitutional obligations. But I can’t.
Instead, almost 2 hours was spent on what I must derisively call “How many Angels can dance on the head of a pin” triviality. The lost 2 hours dealt with only three of the articles, and two of those were moot.
One article dealt with the purchase of a new fire truck. That topic in and of itself was no trivial matter. Instead, it was an amendment to the article that, when broken down, didn’t do anything any differently than the original, merely changed some language. The proposed language would not change the process or the amount of money spent, nor would it change the plans of the Fire Department in any way shape or form. Yet we spent almost an hour debating an amendment (as well as a follow on amendment) that, in the end, was defeated.
Then there were two petition warrant articles. (Any registered voter in town can get an article placed on the warrant through petition. All that’s required are enough signatures of other registered voters on the petition to have it added.)
The two petitions, while they may have had the best interest of the taxpayers at heart, were horribly flawed. Both violated the constitutional separation of powers, laid out in both the US and New Hampshire constitutions. (The articles dealt with personnel policies, something exclusively the purview of the executive branch, in this case meaning our Board of Selectmen.) This meant that at best they were advisory articles and could not be enforced. These two articles were debated and amended ad nauseum. It surprised me how much time and effort went into debating two meaningless warrant articles. You’d have thought this kind of effort would have gone into debating portions of the budget, something that has a direct effect on all the taxpayers in town. But no, all of this energy and emotion went towards something that was trivial.
I wish I could say this was an unusual case, but in all my years of going to town meetings in the towns in which I have resided, I have seen this kind of scenario played out again and again.
Welcome to Town Meeting!
Tonight is our School District Meeting, where we will do the same thing, but this time dealing with our school system and how much we will spend to support it. Hopefully we won’t be dealing with the trivialities seen at town meeting…but I’m not holding my breath.
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-There are two forms of town meetings in New Hampshire – the traditional “everyone shows up and votes on the warrant articles” town meetings, and SB2 town meetings. (SB2 means Senate Bill 2, the legislation that created this alternative form of town meeting.)
In SB2 towns there are actually two different town meeting sessions. The first is called the deliberative session, where voters will meet to go over the articles in the town warrant. They can approve them for inclusion on the town warrant as written, or amend them and then approve them for inclusion. But they can’t vote them up or down until the second session.
The second session is Election Day, generally a month later. Voters will elect their town officials and vote on the articles in the town warrant.
Our little town is an SB2 town, which means we won’t actually vote on the warrant articles until next month.