Voters spar over petition to change town meeting vote

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BUCKFIELD – People for and against a petition to change voting on town meeting articles to referendum votes presented their views at a hearing Tuesday night. Many among the 30 or so residents attending were outspoken and at times tempers flared.

Judy Berg, presenter of the petition, gave a brief history on the article to be on the annual town meeting warrant. Some 140 residents signed her petition, which Berg said was to enable more people to vote by having all town meeting articles voted on by referendum. Berg said that her original presentation to the selectmen would have had a regular town meeting discussion followed by a vote by referendum.

Resident Jim Berg raised a question on the wording of the article, which he said was unclear. The wording on part one, “I vote to maintain the current town meeting process,” was clear, but “I vote to require all town meeting warrant articles be voted on by referendum balloting at the polls,” was not a reverse of the first part. He maintained the second part should say, “I vote not to maintain the current town meeting process and have referendum voting.”

Mable Dunn asked if this would cost the town more money, to which Holmes replied that it would.

Selectman Oscar Gammon said just to read through the warrant and vote on each article would take each voter 20 minutes at least.

Judy Berg noted that a referendum would allow absentee voters a chance to vote, especially the handicapped who couldn’t sit through long meetings.

When asked what the board thought, Gammon said, “We do what the town wants.” When asked for his personal opinion, Gammon replied, “You’re not going to hear it.”

Tony Lord said the article was not saying what he was hearing from the discussion. “I want to know why this is brought forward and what’s wrong with what we do now?”

Jim Berg contended that he is hearing that the petition is actually asking for an end to open town meetings. “This is a fundamental shift in democracy. A public meeting is the most basic form of democracy and it we do away with that, we are doing away with the fundamental democracy of ruling ourselves.”

Charles Berg took issue with this statement and said there were disabled voters that have no way to participate in the current form. He questioned if this was democracy.

Another resident said the article would open doors for greater democracy if more people could vote. He said the town needed to hear more voices and more people might turn out to vote who wouldn’t go to the town meeting.

When Charles Berg indicated that the selectmen had changed the wording of the original article, all selectmen and Holmes immediately jumped to clarify that Holmes had met with Judy Berg to reword the article.

Lord commented that if the handicapped were an issue, the high school was handicapped-accessible if people wanted to come out. He said, “People don’t vote and then they complain.”

Dick Piper said at open meetings the people can vote up or down on money issues. Judy Berg said that if any budget is voted down, that department can continue to operate on 80 percent of its budget.

Wes Ackley commented that if there were questions, they could be answered at town meetings and oftentimes, views are changed by the discussions.

Another resident said that maybe getting the absentee votes would help the 20 percent of voters who run the town.

Jim Berg had one last comment, “Is perfect the enemy of good?”


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