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Anti-Free Speech Legislation in Brattleboro

Government to people: be quiet!

Over that last few years town government has voted too often against the people.  In 2010 there was a
referendum on Pay-As-You-Throw trash collection.  The police-Fire Project (PFP) and the parking garage were approved by the RTM after being rejected by the people.  In April the people rejected the 2015 budget
by referendum because of high taxes and the PFP, and on Monday (June 2) the selectboard and the RTM adopted it.  (Well, the budget had been approximately $16 million and now it’s ALMOST $16 million.)  After the budget referendum Mr. Gartenstein admitted that the referendum was largely about the PFP, but at recent hearings and at the RTM on Monday the board threatened that anyone discussing the PFP would be declared out-of-order.

There were votes and revotes until town government got what it wanted.   You’d think if people want the PFP in the budget, they would have passed a resolution about it.  They can’t.  In 2011 the RTM adopted charter amendments that made it illegal for the people to make resolutions except in March.  RTM to people: be quiet.  Town government is not listening to the people.  

Of course there is room for disagreement about the budget at RTM, but the reasons do not address the people’s concerns: “We’ve worked hard”, “Let’s put this behind us”.  The reps want to feel united.  So, there will be no referendum from them.  Sure enough, the budget is a million dollars higher than the 2014 budget, which was already too high.  And there is no end of bad news about the PFP: it includes $184,500 of new furniture.  The people will start the referendum, but it’s not just about the money.  The spirit of
democracy is endangered in my home town of Brattleboro. 



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The Crowd Nebula

I'm observing a phenomena that could be described as the intersection of two distinct yet overlapping blurs.

A populace that is bewildered, apathetic, distracted and battle weary…and a Representative Town Meeting structure that is arcane, manipulable, reactive, timid and archaic.

It's no wonder that that which goes down in the midst of this conVenntional diagram is so unsatisfying all around.



I am just wondering, spinoza, which one describes you? Bewildered, apathetic, distracted, battle weary, arcane, manipulable, reactive, timid or archaic? Or are you just above it all? And who are you, anyway?


what's in a namesake?

Pretty defensive, huh? I guess your response- as RTM member, and individual- proves the point you can’t make an observation that’s challenging without the likelihood of an ad hominem attack.

As to my identity, I feel very much below it all, not above. I worked in town for twenty years+, coached, served on committees, chaperoned winter sports, taught in schools—and was dismissed without review or consideration for my contributions. I’ve attended and watched meetings in great enough quantity to feel that my perspective is not unique, however unpopular it may be. And that’s why I continue to post.

Although, truth be told it does seem, given the reception, there might be better ways to engage, and spend my time.



I don't know who Spinoza is, but I've seen him advocating for a skatepark. I can imagine him feeling 'bewildered' after volunteering to try something progressive, positive and proactive only to have a bunch of tight-wad, narrow minded, hypocrites beat down a good idea.

Not the first time and won't be the last.

Just wait til they put a bunch of cheap ramps down at corner of Elm Street and Druggie Alley. The place will become a vandalized eyesore, infested with punks. Then the happy re-site thugs will say: 'See; told you it was a bad idea!'

As for Daims point: I agree. The jig is rigged, but there ain't no changing it.


I for one

am battle weary. Many of the activists are. Hail to those who press on; I hope the weary can return to the battlements soon.


The Crowd Nebula

I like your subtitle, Spinoza. I don't think there is anything wrong with the rep town meeting (RTM), structurally, as you say. It's just that the RTM is not representative of the populace, who are as you said apathetic -- they don't want to be in office. The rep town meeting is just as bewildered and apathetic as as the populace. At their recent meeting when they approved the budget, they confirmed a ruling of the moderator to prohibit discussion of the police-fire project (PFP) in relation to the budget. The moderator changed his mind, and allowed the discussion for a moment, and then changed his mind back again. The budget includes interest payments on the PFP, and we hold $4 million of PFP funds that can be used for the budget. But the RTM members were -- again just as you say -- timid, too timid to overrule this nonsensical decision.



Calling me defensive is just another attack. I wasn't trying to put YOU down, I was truly curious - and have been for a while because you are a regular poster on this site. You seemed to have a lot of adjectives for the both the general population and for the RTM members (who are also part of the general population) so I was just wondering where your perspective was in order to make these observations.

Thank you for responding, I have a little better idea of your background.

A Davis


Breaking away

After the big open meeting in April, I crashed pretty hard. I normally don't take town politics personally if I can help it, but I woke up the morning after that meeting feeling depressed. It lasted days, well into May. And now I'm the apathetic, battle-weary person described above. Everywhere I look, things look totally messed up and yet all solutions except the least appetizing seem closed off, nationally as well as locally. I've been feeling only slightly represented (thanks to Mary Cain and Ronny Johnson for representing me on the budget issue). And this despite much evidence that people are at least trying to exercise their democratic rights and effect some kind of change.

I think for some of us, extrapolating outward from the person I know best, there comes a time when if you really care, you get frustrated with the speed at which we as a society move away from positive solutions, and only very glacially and obliquely toward them. The problems are big but the gov't always seems to want to solve them in the least productive, most unhelpful ways. Right now, it seems to want to break us financially. This spring, what broke for me was my faith that established institutions hold the solutions to our problems.

Getting back to the town meeting that was the beginning of my most recent discontent, it made me think that things would have to be completely broken before we could start trying to fix them in any practical way. Until you have no other choice than to act, it's too hard to decide what action to take (if any...) Which is why our budget isn't much smaller after all the shouting than it was before -- a bigger change would have required commitment to act, and I don't think we know what that action should be yet.


budget decisions

Lise, what substantial cuts would you propose? These decisions require specific proposals. Cutting staff and cutting services both lead to a large uproar. Cut sidewalk and road maintenance? Shall we try the local 1% option tax again? How about 2%?

Cut school spending? Cut library, parks and recreation? Cut police? Switch to a volunteer fire department? I think we all want to see proposals.

The argument that the town budget is nearly unchanged between RTM and June 2 is not true. Just saying that the system is broken overlooks the reality that we are the system.


Lost in Translation

Perhaps this is merely a case of one's "tone of voice" being lost over the internet but I have to say - to me -all of your posts on this thread come across as defensive. Maybe not your intent but they do seem that way to me. One of the reasons I -as an informed, active voter- am weary and somewhat complacent after recent meetings about the budget and other town business -is because often questions or opinions from voters are met with one or all of these things; defensiveness; condescension; disregard. I firmly believe that our town government needs to be totally revamped -as far away from the current model as possible. It's becoming clearer and clearer that people do not necessarily have faith in having their individual and collective voices accurately represented at Town Meetings and certainly not at Selectboard meetings. You ask Lise for suggestions; for proposals but it's unrealistic to think that one person could come up with an answer to all that's broken in this town. Isn't that the one of the jobs of the SelectBoard and Town Meeting Reps - to meet with the people they represent and start the process of identifying what is broken, how broken it is and how can we fix it?


I guess I would rather be

I guess I would rather be defensive than offensive… (a joke). Fine - call me defensive. I am not part of any power structure in this town so I am not clear what I am being so defensive about. Writing on the internet has no tone. I try - and perhaps fail - to stick to the substance of what I would like to say.

My family is as worried as others about the cost of living in this town. If we live long enough to pay off the house we will still have taxes, insurance, water and sewer that will make life a challenge in retirement. I mentioned the yearly taxes to a friend from a nearby town in Windham Co. and they quoted paying a higher tax bill than we do.

I spoke up against the 1% local option tax but I am now starting to reconsider that. I am amazed that with the huge crowds of people coming to Brattleboro this past weekend - and all the creativity, celebration and spending that this town can inspire - that we are having such problem making ends meet as a municipality.

I am willing to ask any question that might lead to solutions. Does the arts economy in Brattleboro and the non-profit community in Brattleboro pay there fair share? Just wondering. Should Brattleboro be paying tax money to area human service non-profits? We already offer tax abatements. I have always supported these payments. Do the "people I represent" support these payments? Do the people I represent support a local option tax?

I would love to hear more from the people that RTM represents. I personally engage people in conversation regularly. With working more than one challenging job and belonging to a number of local organizations and attending numerous meetings I am not sure what more I am capable of doing. RTM is also one of the easiest legislative bodies on earth of which to become a member.

Again, call me defensive if you wish, but I think there is a lot in this beautiful town to defend. I also think we have the institutions, the creativity and the freedom to tackle the troubling issues we face.

Andy Davis


do arts and non-profits pay their fair share?

Video tape all of the above proceedings being complained about,
but since they are probably already video-taped for public access t.v., then bring in more cameras and get more angles,
more faces, more facial responses.
Then edit the heck out of it
and submit it to every casting director
and every reality t.v. producer
in Hollywood and Beverly Hils.
There's got to be a way to make a profit
out of general discontent.
Translate it to foreign languages
and sell it to the Chinese and Japanese
and Iranians.
Don't look at your general discontent
as a problem,
package it and sell it
to make a profit.


Andy, thanks for your

Andy, thanks for your thoughtful response. I wasn't actually talking about your defense of Brattleboro - you are absolutely correct that our town has many assets that we should be defending. But, to me, your posts seemed to be defensive about the actions (or non actions) of the Town Meeting Reps. I can appreciate being so busy with jobs; family, community work and the fact that you talk to people about town issues when you can is great. But many of us (myself included) have- in previous posts- asked for more input from the voters to their TMRs. There should be larger community meetings so that voters and TMRs can talk to and with one another; so that questions can be asked and answered; so that concerns can be shared. One informational meeting a year (as was suggested by another person) doesn't cut it. Particularly when larger issues like the police/fire project come up; issues that will have long lasting effects on everyone in this town. I guess I don't understand how Town Meeting members can feel that they can adequately and passionately represent the thousands of people in their districts if they don't take the time to meet with those people and listen to what they say. It's all well and good to run into someone at the library or grocery store and have a 5 minute conversation with that person about an issue Town Meeting will be voting on but that means you are now privy to the concerns of just that one person-not your whole constituency. The Town Meeting model seems to operate in a vacuum- going into meetings without any (or scarce) input from the voters and then casting your votes the way you want. Voters need information; they need input; they need to be listened to. I would think that the budget recall vote would have been an eye opener for the SelectBoard and Town Meeting members.There needs to be better communication between voters and the governing boards- not just lip service or disregard.


Lost in Translation

I don't agree that town government needs to be revamped. Instead, we just need new people to participate. Of course I ask Lise for suggestions, because she is obviously concerned in the issue. I ask also because my organization (BrattleborCommonSense.org) is already working on election reform, which seems a related issue. It does not address EXACTLY the concerns you mention, apathy and disenfranchisement. These are deep problems and can be remedied, I think, only by progress and desperation: when things get better, or when they get much worse). So, it is important to keep on keepin on. For example, our persistence against the Police-Fire project (PFP) is paying off, and people will see the value of active citizenship. Then they may be inspired to try it. So the problem is that some people are doing nothing: the only solution is for the rest of us to do more. I hate to think it's that simple.


Hi Kurt, I was actually

Hi Kurt,
I was actually referring to Andy Davis's post where he was asking Lise for specific ideas. I do think we need new people to participate but I stand by my opinion that Representative Town Meeting is not the most open and democratic way to govern a town. The model of RTM is set up so that it excludes the majority of the voters. I don't want someone who has never spoken to me; has never asked for my opinions on town issues; who has never asked what my concerns are -to be representing my very valuable vote. I grew up in a small, rural town that had a SelectBoard but also had 2 HUGE , all resident town meetings a year -with additional meetings called if issues arose that would greatly impact the town financially or quality of life -wise. Those meetings sometimes lasted 7 or 8 hours -often times being taken up again the next day.
Everyone had a chance to ask questions; to state opinions; to offer suggestions. Everyone - from the school principal to the head of park department to the man who ran the ice cream shop had an equal voice. And then those same voters would actually get to vote on how and why their tax dollars were being spent. Time consuming? Sure. But good for the town. I understand that society is different now. We seldom have large numbers of people getting involved in local issues; there's a lot more complaining and a lot less action. But the single fact that I keep coming back to is that people need to be able to be a part of decisions made in their name. It shouldn't have to reach a level of voting down the budget before the SelectBoard sits up and takes notice. It should be an ongoing conversation between those in office -whether it's on the selectboard or at RTM -and those who vote; pay taxes and try to maintain some quality of life in a town that's in trouble.


I've heard from many people

I've heard from many people that RTM is not working, but it was instituted because direct (non-representative) town meeting wasn't working. I've seen direct democracy working, and it's a beautiful thing. I fear that it would be worse today because general apathy is worse.

I don't want to think they callously ignore the people. I have to wonder at this point if they are just emotionally invested in it. For sure we shouldn't need so much resistance to wake up the town government, but at least they appear to be stepping back on the Police-Fire Project, and that has been a crucial goal for Brattleboro Common Sense, and that will affect the budget for a long time. Meanwhile, I think we have to act on this -- what is it? -- anti-democracy issue


Representative Town Meeting, 1960

Brattleboro's representative Town Meeting wasn't instituted because of voter apathy. One of the reasons it was instituted was because there were TOO MANY people who wanted to attend Town Meeting and the town didn't have an appropriately sized meeting space at the time! So the answer, instead of seeking a larger space, was to limit democracy!

But even in 1960, as it is today, representative Town Meeting was really just a way to keep the proles from getting too cocky, and preserving power for those who know best. They said as much, but couched in an accusation that "special interests" pack meetings with their supporters at Town Meetings to get their pet articles passed (or failed). Like, for instance, say you want to build an expensive new police and fire facility... Well, better to have a small group of manipulable rubber stampers vote on it.

It appears representative Town Meeting was mainly the crusade of Rep. Bob Gannett, who also pushed the enabling legislation through the legislature.

Chris Grotke's excellent article on RTM makes interesting reading: http://www.ibrattleboro.com/sections/history/representative-town-meeting...


New Paradigm

Most towns don't go down fighting -- they just fade away. Probably through endless budget cuts due to shrinking grand list due to people moving away or being less prosperous (to put it mildly). If the middle class is indeed shrinking and if costs continue to rise and people don't make more money, things are going to get bad for a lot of people, and for Brattleboro collectively. I think there are a lot of things we need to be thinking about in addition to budget cuts.

If the budget continues to rise at the present rate (this year dropped as anomalous), what are we looking at in 5 years, 10 years?

If incomes continue on their current trajectory, will they be able to keep up with the Town's budget requirements?

How can we keep the things we value going under whatever we think the new scenario is?

What needs do we have that could be supplied locally at a savings to the taxpayer?

What about lobbying for legalization and taxation of marijuana? Or aren't we broke enough for that yet? ;)

What about taking some of these local energy projects more seriously? (How are people going to heat their houses if fuel prices keep climbing?)

And other questions of that nature. In other words, I'm in favor of taking a broader view of the problem and seeing if we can step back and find creative solutions that don't lead to us ruining ourselves over a budget crunch.

Oh and one more question -- what about wealth inequity in America? Is it possible it's gone to far? or is it normal for towns and cities to have to cut to barebones, go bankrupt, or inflict increasingly high taxes?

I'm not faulting RTM or the SB, btw. They did the best they could with what they knew on short notice. But now we all know more and I think the conversation is going to get interesting.


budget decisions

You buy the selectboard's simple version of the budget issue. It's not just cut or don't cut. There is also nearly $2 million of ready cash in the unassigned fund balance, and there is $4 million of Police-Fire money that can be used for capital expenses. This is not, as one rep complained, like using a credit card to pay off another. This is cash money already borrowed and is sitting in a low-interest account. But as I mentioned in the original post, anyone discussing the PFP was ruled out-of-order.
You also say the budget is significantly changed. Gartenstein himself said that, except for the delay of the second PFP bond, the reductions were "nickel-and-dime". Those were his own words.


The governed class of Brattleboro

"There were votes and revotes until town government got what it wanted."
It's a pattern - remember the transportation center?

It's not just "representative" Town Meeting. In my opinion, the charter generally serves as a document to insulate town government from voters. Brattleboro voters have much less say in their local government than other Vermonters.


The governed class of Brattleboro

please tell us more about Brattleboro voters having less say than other Vermonters.


the budget

should be voted on by a town wide vote open to all eligible voters. It's done that way in my town and we get a active turnout despite being at odd ball times. Why don't you push for that Mr. Kurt?
As for the Police/fire renovations, that can has been kicked down the road for way too long. The town hall is very old and the police station needs to be moved to make room there. If nothing else, the room where the SB meets is way too small. The outside of the Town Hall is so cool and inside it is antiquated.


the budget

Thanks, Fishboy. I need more things to do. Actually we're working on it. Brattleboro Common Sense. (brattlebrocommonsense@gmail.com) As for the Police-Fire Project (PFP), it has been pushed down the road too long. When I looked in the original documents that are on paper at town hall (not with internet access), you'll see that it has to be started over and done right. The first PF committee was on the wrong track at their very first meeting. They ASSUMED at their first meeting that the problems were all to be addressed by architectural construction, and their subjects of inquiry were only: new building or renovated building; where to build, and what architect to hire. No modest solutions were researched, just construction. Then never considered of other trades, industries or technologies could apply to the problems, and that is why the proposals have been too expensive.


Brattleboro's anti-voter charter

I won't bother repeating myself with another rant on all the ways Brattleboro's charter robs its citizens of control over their government.
But I share your concerns, Kurt.


Maus, everyone, A few people

Maus, everyone,
A few people want to talk about this. Should we include you ? (kurtdaims@gmail.com)


A Modest Proposal?

I'll throw this out again to see if anyone thinks (a) if it has merit and (b) if so, if there is any mechanism to make it happen:



Hi, Bob. I can show this to

Hi, Bob.
I can show this to our attorney if you are serious about it. I think your proposal would entail an amendment to the town charter. Don't confuse this procedure (correspondence below) with the advisory article petitioning under article three Powers of the People.

From: PGillies xxxxxxx
To: kurtdaims@hotmail.com
Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2012 05:18:26 -0400
Subject: xxxxxxx charter amendment

Morning Kurt,
The law on this is 24 V.S.A. § 2645. I’ll copy it below.
You prepare a petition. Get it signed by five percent of the voters. Submit it.
Then the Selectboard warns a first hearing, to be warned 30-40 days prior to the hearing, but before any notice goes up for the vote, and then a second within the time between the posting of the warning and the vote, also warned 30-40 days. The board can’t change it; it goes right to the voters, at Town Meeting Day, by Australian ballot. If it passes, it is forwarded to the legislature, where you will need to defend it before various committees, and if the legislators agree they enact it into law, with the Governor’s signature.
That’s it in a nutshell.
Any questions?

2645. Charters, amendment, procedure
(a) A municipality may propose to the general assembly to amend its charter by majority vote of the legal voters of the municipality present and voting at any annual or special meeting warned for that purpose in accordance with the following procedure:
(1) A proposal to adopt, repeal or amend a municipal charter may be made by the legislative body of the municipality or by petition of five percent of the voters of the municipality.
(2) An official copy of the proposed charter amendments shall be filed as a public record in the office of the clerk of the municipality at least ten days before the first public hearing and copies thereof shall be made available to members of the public upon request.
(3) The legislative body of the municipality shall hold at least two public hearings prior to the vote on the proposed charter amendments. The first public hearing shall be held at least 30 days before the annual or special meeting.
(4) If the proposals to amend the charter are made by the legislative body, the legislative body may revise the amendments as a result of suggestions and recommendations made at a public hearing, but in no event shall such revisions be made less than 20 days before the date of the meeting. If revisions are made, the legislative body shall post a notice of these revisions in the same places as the warning for the meeting not less than 20 days before the date of the meeting and shall attach such revisions to the official copy kept on file for public inspection in the office of the clerk of the municipality.
(5) If the proposals to amend the charter are made by petition, the second public hearing shall be held no later than ten days after the first public hearing. The legislative body shall not have the authority to revise proposals to amend the charter made by petition. After the warning and hearing requirements of this section are satisfied, proposals by petition shall be submitted to the voters at the next annual meeting, primary or general election in the form in which they were filed, except that the legislative body may make technical corrections.
(6) Notice of the public hearings and of the annual or special meeting shall be given in the same way and time as for annual meetings of the municipality. Such notice shall specify the sections to be amended, setting out sections to be amended in the amended form, with deleted matter in brackets and new matter underlined or in italics. If the legislative body of the municipality determines that the proposed charter amendments are too long or unwieldy to set out in amended form, the notice shall include a concise summary of the proposed charter amendments and shall state that an official copy of the proposed charter amendments is on file for public inspection in the office of the clerk of the municipality and that copies thereof shall be made available to members of the public upon request.
(7) Voting on charter amendments shall be by Australian ballot. The ballot shall show each section to be amended in the amended form, with deleted matter in brackets and new matter underlined or in italics and shall permit the voter to vote on each proposal of amendment separately. If the legislative body determines that the proposed charter amendments are too long or unwieldy to be shown in the amended form, an official copy of the proposed charter amendments shall be maintained conspicuously in each ballot booth for inspection by the voters during the balloting and voters shall be permitted to vote upon the charter amendments in their entirety in the form of a yes or no proposition.
(b) The clerk of the municipality, under the direction of the legislative body, shall announce and post the results of the vote immediately after the vote is counted. The clerk, within 10 days after the day of the election, shall certify to the secretary of state each proposal of amendment showing the facts as to its origin and the procedure followed.
(c) The secretary of state shall file the certificate and deliver copies of it to the attorney general and clerk of the house of representatives, the secretary of the senate and the chairman of the committees concerned with municipal charters of both houses of the general assembly.
(d) The amendment shall become effective upon affirmative enactment of the proposal, either as proposed or as amended by the general assembly. A proposal for a charter amendment may be enacted by reference to the amendment as approved by the voters of the municipality. (Added 1977, No. 269 (Adj. Sess.), § 1; amended 1979, No. 200 (Adj. Sess.), § 100; 1981, No. 239 (Adj. Sess.), § 22, eff. May 4, 1982; 1983, No. 161 (Adj. Sess.); 1987, No. 63.)


budget matters

More people read this thread than voted. Showing up is the hardest part. Transparency is key. When did the fun step out of fundamental.

As for the charter (cushion), it allows for this communication and more. Thanks, be well.


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