Ask one of the pandemic-weary Athens residents, 380, how much they wanted to resume their in-person March meeting after Covid-19 was canceled last year and they’ll give you a particular example of proof .
They held a special in-person town meeting last December to decide the very issue.
Historians are unsure if this patch of map of County Windham is named after the Greek crucible of democracy. But some 50 residents who gathered at their red-shingled school on Tuesday more than lived up to the example of their former counterparts in joining their Vermont compatriots in the annual sugaring-off season vote on local leaders and spending.
Although the threat of the coronavirus prompted nearly 75% of the state’s 246 municipalities to replace elbow-to-elbow decision-making with mail-in ballots, Athens was one of about 40 small towns to return to in-person meetings – in part by requiring masks or moving to more airy spaces like a road crew garage (Mendon and Winhall) or a fire station (Jay and Whiting).
Although town meetings are most often held on the first Tuesday in March, several Vermont communities are off to a good start this year.
Braintree, for example, met on Saturday to decide everything from who will serve as cemetery commissioner for five years to whether to post future municipal notices at town hall, the municipal office and the municipal school.
“Nothing big,” City Clerk Jessica Brassard said of the agenda before noting, “No lunch though!”
The pandemic has also canceled the usual potluck in Goshen while serving an assortment of shorter gatherings elsewhere.
Addison and Pownal were two towns that met Monday evening to formally receive annual reports from local leaders, then adjourned to vote everything else by ballot Tuesday.
Kirby gave a gavel at his meeting on Tuesday morning, elected Ethan Allen Institute founder John McClaughry as moderator for the 56th time (a state record yet to be disproved) and adjourned until so that locals can spread things figuratively and literally in May.
“We were two, three…eight or nine here,” Kirby City Clerk Wanda Grant said as she recounted the presence in her head.
Granby, whose population of 81 is the second-smallest in the state after Victory’s 70, had to debate its entire platform — in part because only a dozen of its 50 registered voters typically show up.
“We have a small population and a large building, so we can easily follow tradition,” said Granby City Clerk Sheryl Brown.
Before the pandemic, about 75% of municipalities in Vermont held some sort of floor vote during town meeting season. This year, that same percentage is limited to ballots, with 30 other communities postponing deliberations until it is warm enough to open windows or move outside.
“While this statistic is shocking – and concerning to some Town Meeting Day purists – we shouldn’t look past the most important part of Town Meeting Day: what we vote for or against,” Ted Brady, Director executive of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, wrote in a recent report.
In that vein, the townships of Derby, Eden, Mount Holly, Norton, Poultney and Stratton were among more than 40 Vermont municipalities set to decide whether to join 33 others that allow the local sale of marijuana.
Arlington was to vote on a proposal to create a $50,000 climate mitigation fund to offset the city’s fossil fuel emissions “with the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2027,” according to the article. .
Danby discusses whether to pass an ordinance regulating all-terrain vehicles on city roads.
And Mount Tabor decides to join 31 other Vermont municipalities that have adopted a Declaration of inclusion.
Many cities, however, came together not because they had a talking point, but because they didn’t.
“The meeting is simple and very much like previous years,” said Irasburg City Clerk Danielle Ingalls.
“There is nothing distinctive about this meeting,” added Orange clerk Angela Eastman.
Again, after two long years of the pandemic, the one encounter was remarkable.
“We’re doing it like we always have,” said Stamford City Clerk Lori Shepard.
“It’s going to be a good regular Old Town meeting – finally,” added Readsboro Town Clerk Amber Holland.
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