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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Small Town Democracy: Middlebury Town Meeting Day

All articles were approved during Middlebury’s town meeting day on March 1, with votes cast via secret ballot due to ongoing concerns about Covid-19. The town meeting day was preceded by an informational Zoom meeting on Feb. 28. The preliminary Zoom meeting is a change from the pre-pandemic in-person format with an open floor discussion. According to Esther Thomas, a re-elected Middlebury Selectboard member, the Zoom focused on updates to ballot measures. It also gave all of the candidates time to introduce themselves to the roughly 50 town members in attendance. 

Each year on the first Tuesday of March, Vermont residents gather together for their annual town meetings.  

According to Brian Carpenter, the Middlebury Selectboard chair, this year’s meeting looked a little different. It consisted of an informational Zoom meeting on Monday, Feb. 28, followed by voting via pre-printed secret ballots on Tuesday, March 1.  

Carpenter said that the town meeting holds a special place in small-town democracy.

“The majority of Vermonters really appreciate the opportunity to gather to have dialogue and debate in an open forum and to be recognized individually,” Carpenter said. “They appreciate that even if they don't go, they have the opportunity to.” 

Thomas agreed that the chance to interact with neighbors and encourage community are important parts of the annual meeting. “You get to hear out your neighbor in a way, [and] it brings people together,” Thomas said. “[It] helps give a sense of community in a way you can’t get from a large city.”

However, Thomas also noted that the online format presented some challenges. “[People were] disappointed because they love town meeting days and really want the experience of us coming together and being in the same space.”

According to the town of Middlebury’s website, there were several uncontested elections for local office positions on the ballot. Susan Shashok won the moderator position, while Elizabeth Dow won the lister. Steve Gross and Joe McVeigh won the two available spots for library trustee. Three positions were also open on the selectboard, which were filled by Andy Hooper, Heather J. Seeley and Esther Thomas. 

Carpenter said that there were also four budget related items on the agenda, all of which were approved. According to the town website, these included a small 3.9% increase in the estimated tax rate to support the Proposed 2022–23 Annual Budget. 

According to the minutes of the meeting, the approved increase will help with various maintenance projects, among other things. Voters also passed a $750 appropriation for Addison Allies Network, an organization working with Addison County migrant farm workers and immigrants. 

Tax collection dates were also approved, along with a property tax exemption for the Middlebury Regional Emergency and Medical Services.

“[Town meetings provide] a level of confidence that we are being fiscally responsible while trying to budget for what the town needs,” Carpenter said. “[They] provide an opportunity for people to question and clarify.”

The last item on the meeting agenda was about open seats on the Addison Central School District School Board. Middlebury had three uncontested openings out of seven total seats. Incumbent James “Chip” Malcolm, Steve Orzech and Brian Bauer won the three seats, according to The Addison County Independent. 

School Board seats are voted on district wide, so Middlebury residents also voted in the two contested elections for the Ripton and Weybridge seats. Both seats were won by the challengers — Joanna Doria won Ripton’s seat and Jamie McCallum won the Weybridge seat. Several other school-related budget items were approved, according to The Addison Independent.