With traditions spanning the centuries, Town Meeting in Vershire is serious business - and also fun!

“May the Force Be with You!”

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Town Meeting in Vershire is More than Just “Aye” vs. “Nay”

Yes, we vote (with our voices, usually).  Pass budgets.  Question our elected officials. Robert’s Rules of Order preside (explained in magic marker on poster board hung with duct tape, naturally).  But is that why people really go to Town Meeting - to debate what's on the warning?  And is that all that really takes place?

The best advice is to ask for a Point of Order if you're not sure what's going on.

I met new friends, Cindy and Art, who’ve lived here for two years after retiring, now occupying their land full-time and loving life in Vermont.  The other “new people” aka Liz and Nate Thames, along with baby Stella (below), aren’t so brand new anymore, but this was their first chance to attend Town Meeting and they were impressed.  The high-speed internet connection provided by ECFiber allows them both to largely work from home with a minimum of commuting and occasional travel, which also supports their commitment to spending substantial amounts of time with their daughter.

The range of technology in Vershire is also depicted at Town Meeting in a most picturesque and yet powerful fashion.  The centuries-old tradition of knitting while contemplating and legislating is joined here by a more modern form of journalism as Laura Craft types notes for her Randolph Herald article and Peggy Darrow works on her knit-and-purl combination.

Our newly elected State Representative, Bob Frenier (below), mostly talked about being a minority Republican, though I’m not sure whether that was extremely helpful to us, except to say that he can still get things done on our behalf anyway by working with the Republican governor and his appointees.  We learned that he does not support Sanctuary City status, and that we can look forward to a new pharmacy opening in Chelsea in a couple of weeks.

Our other State Rep, Rodney Graham (below) did helpfully interject during a discussion of the virtually obsolete positions of Town Grand Juror and Town Agent, offering to clarify that these positions can’t simply be abolished on the spot.  The group agreed not to elect anyone to the post of Town Agent, as this didn’t appear to fulfill a necessary function.  The sense of the meeting was that we would like more information on what we can do with these positions either to remove them from our warning and free up some time or to fill them in a meaningful way.  Fred Crowley referred to discussions around these unnecessary functions as the “giggle factor” and suggested they be placed in the warning after the potentially more contentious articles such as budget discussions and truck purchases, when we might be in more need of some levity.

Jean MacDonald was eventually elected as our Town Grand Juror after a discussion that started on the frivolous side and became more serious as we considered why this position might still exist at all.  Apparently most Vermont towns still hold the position open though it has not been active for about fifty years or more.  Peggy Darrow nominated Jean, she explained, in all seriousness because Jean is a capable point person for folks in town who might not know who to contact for help or might not feel comfortable accessing the State’s Attorney General directly.  Andrea related that as a mandated reporter in her profession, people will sometimes come to her with concerns that Andrea is then required to report if involving suspect abuse of a minor, but that the legal inquiry comes back to the original informant anyway.  Still, this might provide an avenue of approach that feels more comfortable to someone unsure of proper channels or simply hesitant to interact with them directly.
Marc McKee, of the Vershire Select Board (left, above), expressed to both Representatives his frustration with the overweening Agency of Natural Resources with their six hundred staff members and lack of effective support in helping us to move forward with plans for a new Town Garage.  Marc requested the Representatives’ help to “streamline that baby” referring to the ANR, and when Rodney agreed, Marc offered the benediction, “May the Force be with you.”

Meanwhile, in the basement of the Town Center, across the serving window from the simmering soups in the kitchen, three girls were observed quietly using Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who would go first in a board game, again proving that all things can be accomplished with cooperation, patience and proper protocol.

Discussion ensued upstairs as to whether the town is a non-profit, which Gene Craft, Town Clerk, instantly researched online, determining that it is, but of a particular kind as a municipality.  This was in response to a question from Sabra Ewing wondering whether the town can hold fundraisers for town expenses.  Deb Kingsbury pointed out that this is generally done for specific projects and it wouldn’t be a reliable source of income for the General Operating Budget.

Jack Kruse eagerly addressed the Vershire Fire & Rescue budget article - in fact, he was two articles ahead in the proceedings as the Moderator had deigned to allow the three Australian Ballot budgetary articles to be discussed but not voted on, per new regulations.  Friendly chuckling accompanied Jack’s attempt to address all three articles at the same time before David explained they each needed to be brought up in turn, one at a time.  Finally, Jack did have his chance to explain that the VFR budget really covers basically equipment and insurance, with the heating fuel coming from waste oil, and mowing, plowing and volunteer time all donated.

Laura Craft mentioned the idea that had been brainstormed at the previous Sunday’s Informational Meeting about starting a VFR Auxiliary for people who want to help but can’t commit to the lengthy training required of firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians.  She directed interested people to a signup sheet in the foyer and offered to attend the next meeting of the VFR.  We learned at the Sunday Informational Meeting that there is a real need for help on the scene of a call that’s not limited to the extensively-trained volunteers, such as fetching equipment, watching children, keeping dogs out of the way, and more.  There are also multiple opportunities for volunteers to support the department behind the scenes with communications, fundraising and other helpful tasks.  In other words, if you can stand in the middle of the road in front of Ward’s garage with a very large boot and accept donations, you’re hired!

Australian ballot issues were voted on in the Historical Society wing of the building from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with various attendants taking shifts, including Anna Sykas.  A talented multi-tasker, she worked on a new hat for her niece in preparation for the upcoming Science March, which takes the basic pattern (held by Marissa Mazzucco) from the recent January Women’s March and addes a strand of DNA to the design along one side.

The all-important topic of homemade donuts was also addressed, as Eileen Murphy noted with grateful reverence that Sis Cadwell and Rita French might appreciate members of younger generations taking over the job at some point.  Andrea Harrington suggested the elder donut makers offer a workshop teaching others the recipe and their magical tips and tricks.  Please note that no one need ask about frosting or jelly filling as this is a whole different animal.  These are the real traditional donuts, preferably fried in lard, which is good for you, take my word for it.  Your brain actually needs the natural fats.

Andrea noted that her name is still listed in the Town Report as the Green Up Day Coordinator though she hasn’t held this post for two years, since it is too close to the time she needs to be organizing for Camp.  We wear many hats in a small town, but we can’t wear them all at once!  More discussion followed around what is found on the side of the road, including returnable cans and bottles that can be collected at the recycling center and whose deposits contribute to Vershire Fire & Rescue.

Eileen Murphy observed that Article 8 was able to be passed without a specified cap on the amount allowed to be spent on a loader for the Highway Department because of the trusting relationship that has been built over the last several years between the townspeople, the road crew, and town government.  Well done, folks.

The amount of funds appropriated to local service providers that encompass more than just the town of Vershire was increased in two instances, for the Chelsea Senior Center and the Rivendell Trail Association, showing both generosity and appreciation for the many local and regional organizations that support our community.

More food than was expected greeted diners downstairs after the meeting, which ended conveniently around noon.  In addition to the soups and bread, Selectboard member Marc McKee had also brought in a lasagne, which disappeared quickly.  The soups comprised a range of meat based (Kielbasa Soup, Chicken with Rice, and Asparagus with Chicken Broth), vegetarian (Corn Chowder), and vegan (Four Bean and Mohegan Succotash, pictured above), along with bread (gluten-free and wheat) and butter, and even some brownies gleaned from the Snowshoe-a-thon’s Midway Station.  The Snowshoe-a-thon had successfully gone on as planned the previous Saturday despite bitter temperatures and wind, with the trail adjusted to maximize natural windbreaks.

Nearly all the attendees of the morning’s Meeting stayed to eat and visit, completing the vital function of the event, which is all about valuing and contributing to our strong community.  It’s a time to ask about absent neighbors and offer thanks for being pulled out of the ditch on an icy day.  Informal discussions continue, which is really the segue into the rest of the year in the life of the town we share together day after day, and celebrate in this unique fashion once a year.  Both powerful and quaint, Vermont Town Meeting sends a loud message from a small voice to the rest of the country about showing up to stand side by side and work face to face with our real communities instead of hoping somebody at the top is looking out for us.  It’s up to us, if we are to be a government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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