In praise of Town Meeting

By Frank Feeley

On Jan. 19, 2023, Concord convenes a Special Town Meeting.  The focal point will be appropriating additional funds to cover increases in construction costs for the new middle school. There are also important articles on funding affordable housing and creating a rule for fossil free new construction in Concord. 

But even if none of these issues excite you, Town Meeting is a rare form of direct democracy that is seen in few places outside New England. You should plan to attend.

It is easy to argue that many of the issues addressed in a Town Meeting could better be handled by the Select Board or the Town Manager. Some get into “the weeds” of Town Government in what seems excessive detail.  But that misses the point — Town Meeting provides a forum where every voter can actively participate in decisions that will shape their lives.

Sometimes, Town Meeting provides an unexpected bit of levity.  A few years ago, when actions to slow the deterioration of Warner’s Pond were under consideration, the Moderator called on a West Concord resident for an update on the turtles living there.

Most importantly, in this age of Internet-augmented rage, Town Meeting shows what “civil discourse” can be. Opponents and proponents of a particular action make thoughtful presentations on the merits of the matter and the way in which the Town will be affected.   Passionate positions are expressed  with moderation. The Moderator rightly silences audible gloating about the outcome of a particular vote. In short, issues of civic importance are handled with civility, a characteristic that is increasingly rare in American politics.  Skip Thursday Night Football and join your neighbors on Jan. 19 to see why Town Meeting has survived as a form of government in New England.  You will experience yet another reason to be glad you live in Concord.

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