Walden, Vermont will be celebrating Town Meeting Day tomorrow by considering a proposal that would seriously undermine democratic participation: raising the percentage of voters needed to reconsider a vote from 5% to 20%. It’s clearly a kindergarten-like payback for the school budget fights last year, where upwards of 65% of the voters said “no, no, no” in a series of re-votes before the school board started to listen. Oh wait, are they saying “no”?
But now – after reducing the budget, as requested by 65% of the voters – the school board is both claiming that they are “listening” AND trying to make it harder for the citizens to speak in the future. Can you hear me now?
The 5% of registered voters needed for a recall vote to happen is a long, long Vermont tradition. It’s been in Walden’s charter for generations and generations. And it’s a good threshold. It takes a fair amount of work to get 5% of the voting population to put their names on a public petition to call for a reconsideration of a vote already approved by their fellow neighbors. In Walden, that meant getting nearly 40 signatures last year – in a town with no store, no post office and no high school. Like I said, it takes some effort.
This is clearly an effort fueled by the frustration of the school board. They proposed a budget increase of more than 15% and then sleepily tip-toed to a town meeting vote that squeaked by with only a few votes to spare amongst the mere 160-or-something votes out of our town’s total 600+ registered voters.
And then 5% of the voters asked for a reconsideration, resulting in votes of vast majorities (65% or so) saying no, no, no to the radical increases.
Finally, the school board decided to listen. And they chopped the budget to a level that was – by vote – congruent with the Walden population.
And then they told us how they “heard” us. And they told us how they were “listening.”
And then they put forward a change in their bylaws that would make it harder for these kinds of efforts to occur again. Here’s the board’s proposed question to the voters attending its next meeting at Walden’s Town Meeting:
“Shall the Walden School District increase the percentage of voters required on a petition for a reconsideration or rescission from 5% to 20%?”
If that’s not a big FU to the voters, I’m not sure what else is.
But, they’re listening, remember?
This whole effort is about trying to make it a lot harder to question their decisions and for the school board to be able to identify people who oppose them – a powerful tool in the world of small-town politics.
It’s sad, really.
Please, if you’re a Walden voter and you attend Town Meeting: Vote “No” on the roadblocks to democracy.
And to the Walden voters who won’t be attending Town Meeting, stay tuned for a re-vote.