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A Reflection on Town Meeting Day

March 08, 2019

In 1762, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade wound its way through lower Manhattan, a procession that still takes place today. That same year, here in Vermont, Bennington residents gathered in a local tavern for the first town-hall meeting (nearly 30 years before we were even a state).

In each of the 257 years since, Vermonters have convened on town meeting day. In taverns and schools and offices and homes, they discuss vital issues, elect local officials, vote on taxes and public works, hear from state leaders and brainstorm ideas for a better, brighter place to live, work and play.

The day for these meetings is so important that it is an officially sanctioned state holiday.

“Town meetings in Vermont exemplify the way we do business,” Vermont’s sole member of the U.S. House, Rep. Peter Welch, said in a tweet last week. “We listen to one another, we respect different opinions, and we get the job done with common-sense solutions.”

I agree. While we will always have our differences with regulators, legislators and others, we also know that in Vermont, most people come to the table in the spirit of collaboration and mutual respect. It’s not always the case but is certainly truer here than on the national stage or in most other states.

We should appreciate that. Vermont’s brand of dialogue and debate fuels a unique and inclusive political process. On town meeting day, everyone has a voice and everything pauses for all of us to hear those different perspectives.

“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, a French diplomat and political scientist who studied the U.S. in the 1830s and wrote extensively about his observations in Democracy in America.

Vermont embodies de Tocqueville’s account of a nation where every-day people contribute their intelligence and passion to improving their community, state and country.

I am grateful for town meeting day and all the other opportunities available in Vermont for people to express their opinions and help drive public decisions. We are stronger for it.

Jeff Tieman

President and CEO, VAHHS