Weston Select Board sets May 25 Town Meeting Details remain unsettled amid concern over loss of tradition

The Weston Select Board met Tuesday night to discuss the future of Town Meeting.

By Cherise Madigan
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Weston Select Board, expressing concerns about permanently losing Town Meeting Day, has decided to reschedule its Town Meeting this year tp Tuesday, May 25, although the details on where it will be held and how votes will be conducted won’t be revisited until the board’s March 23 meeting.

On Jan. 19, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law House Bill 48 that allows Vermont towns to postpone Town Meeting or send out Australian ballots to conduct their votes. Towns also have other options, such as holding an online informational meeting, then conducting its votes by Australian ballot, which Chester and Andover are doing. Landgrove and Peru also have opted for March Australian ballots.  Londonderry, on the other hand, moved to postpone an in-person — and likely outdoors — Town Meeting until May.

Board chair Denis Benson suggested conducting votes by mail-in Australian ballot.

But on Tuesday, Weston’s board was split on the details of holding the meeting and vote.  Board chair Denis Benson argued for mail-in voting, expressing concerns about emerging variations of the Covid-19 virus.

Board member Charles Goodwin predicted that the shift to mail-in voting will herald the end of Town Meeting as a Vermont tradition. But Benson viewed postponement as a one-time event.

“I hate to see the end of Town Meeting,” Goodwin said. “The Secretary of State is already saying there’s a higher turnout when it’s Australian ballot, that means there will be a push for Australian ballots, and it will be the end of Town Meeting.”

“I’d really hate to see us go that way so quickly,” board member Ann Fuji’i agreed. “I’d be strongly in favor of postponing.”

Weston, which traditionally nominates and votes on candidates from the floor during Town Meeting, has to alter the procedure should votes be taken by Australian ballot, whether mailed in or at the ballot box. It will have to give 45 days to allow candidates to file with the Town Clerk their intentions to run to be put on the ballot.  But the board missed the Monday, Jan. 25 deadline to allow for a March 2 Town Meeting vote.

Board member Ann Fuji’i and other expressed concern about losing the tradition of Town Meeting.

The board has already missed the deadline to warn Town Meeting for the first Tuesday in March because of a rule that requires towns to provide no less than 30 days’ warning of the Town Meeting. Regardless of the final date chosen, Weston’s meeting will be delayed.

“There are too many unknowns to make the decision right now,” Fuji’i said. “I really think it would be the end of Town Meeting. It’s just too easy.”

Despite disagreements, members moved unanimously to pick the issue back up on March 23, which would allow the required 30 day warning period for Town Meeting on May 25. If Covid case rates are still high in March, they acknowledged, voting via Australian Ballot would likely be pursued.

Accident prompts discussion of protocol, Town Green protections

The Weston Town Green has been the site of multiple accidents over the years, and a crash on Saturday, Jan. 23 prompted the board to review the protections for the property — abutting state-owned Route 100 — as well as how accident information is recorded by the town.

Vermont State Police reported a number of accidents that day, many caused by an overnight storm that produced wet, slippery snow. The accident in Weston took place before state road crews had plowed Route 100, Benson said, and State Police logs reported the crash occurred at 4:21 a.m.

“Every year we have at least one, if not two, accidents on that corner,” said Fuji’i. “It’s worth exploring if there is anything that can be done to protect our precious fence and of course people on the Green.”

This time, a tree on the Green suffered “a lot of damage,” she said. Though Fuji’i suggested requesting jersey barriers from the state Agency of Transportation to protect the property, Benson said that such barriers would pose a problem for snowplows. Road Foreman Almon Crandall added that the barriers could also present a liability concern.

His suggestion was to alter the fence so it could be easily removed in the winter and re-installed once the snow melts. Fuji’i argued that doing so would lead to more damage on the town Green, both from out-of-control cars driving farther onto the property as well as the heavy equipment needed to extract them.

Long term, she added, the board should also talk with the AOT about traffic speeds on Route 100 and how the section of highway that adjoins Weston’s Main Street could be made safer. Ultimately, Crandall offered to reach out to the AOT.

A second issue was also raised by the accident, according to Fuji’i. The town Fire Department used to record accident details — the driver’s name, insurance information, etc. — she said, but this time the only information taken down was the name of the state trooper who responded. She described the process of obtaining that information from the police “horrendous” and “practically impossible,” saying that the town endured “six months of telephone tag” for an accident last year that remains un-resolved.

Fuji’i requested that the board ask the Fire Department to ensure the information is collected in the future, and it’s necessary to initiate an insurance claim when town property is damaged. Benson agreed to pass the request along to Fire Chief Ryan Hart.

In other action, the board unanimously approved:

  • The purchase of up to 800 cubic yards of sand at $10.75 from Renaud Gravel in 2021 and 2022.
  • The purchase of a handheld radio for $700 to $800 that would allow Road Foreman Jeff Ursha to contact multiple agencies during an emergency situation.


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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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