It was town meeting in our little New Hampshire town last night, an annual ritual that is an expression of small town democracy. It is where the voters, and just as importantly, the taxpayers decide how much the town will spend over the coming year and on what. There are also changes in town ordinances that are presented and explained.
Twenty five warrant articles were read, motions were made, and in a few cases, debated.
One would think there would be lively debate, particularly on articles that spent our hard earned money. But you'd be wrong.
One would think people would question some of the new or changed ordinances because they affect what people could do (or not do) with their property. But you'd be wrong.
What was the most debated and hotly contested issue brought up before the people at town meeting?
A citizen's petition was filed that would ban all fireworks from being used in town unless they were handled by professional pyrotechnicians. The problem? Fireworks are legal in New Hampshire. The ban would even outlaw sparklers, something that is legal in just about every state of the union.
What prodded this petition into being? Something quite simple really: The Precautionary Principle.
The various reasons I heard ran the gamut, from “Someone could get hurt” to “It's usually someone who's drunk and can hurt others” to “I heard of a little girl whose clothes caught on fire because of a sparkler.” Of course no mention was made of actual injury rates or of the fact that these types of fireworks are legal here.
But what was the real issue here? Was it the nuisance factor, something no ordinance is going to stop? Was this a false flag operation, meaning the Precautionary Principle was used as an excuse to do away with what some saw as a nuisance they didn't want to deal with?
In the end it won't matter as the voters will make the decision in the voting booth next month.