Cavendish voters narrowly approve cannabis sales, end ‘from the floor’ voting

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Voters in Cavendish on Tuesday voted 182 to 168 to allow retail sale of cannabis in the town.

Voters raised hands in support of trying a Saturday Town Meeting. Images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

But the hot topic at Monday’s informational meeting were articles that would permanently eliminate voting from the floor of the annual Town Meeting in favor of Australian balloting. The article for voting on the budget by Australian ballot passed 234 to 112 while the article for voting all public questions by Australian ballot passed 225 to 114. Note: All election evening results are unofficial until confirmed by the towns.

When the Covid pandemic hit, the town moved from a traditional in-person meeting on a Monday night, with officers elected by Australian ballot on Tuesday, to a Monday informational hybrid meeting with all ballot questions voted on Tuesday.

Cavendish resident Wendy Regier asks for the show of hands

Town Clerk Diane McNamara told Monday’s audience that attendance at these meetings has been dropping while the number of people voting on Tuesdays has been up. There were about 40 people at Cavendish Town Elementary on Monday night.

McNamara also said that with in-person town meetings, there’s no early voting and no absentee voting. “So if you are away, sick, have kids and can’t make it to the meeting, you can’t vote,” said McNamara, adding that there should be a way of increasing the turnout at in-person meetings.

Select Board member George Timko saying that it’s better to have informed voters than uninformed voters

Cavendish resident Stu Lindberg spoke about the importance of doing the public business “from the floor” saying “The best democracy is local democracy and that’s right here.” Wendy Regier added that while she and Lindberg don’t often agree, she gave him a “Right on.”

Jen Leak had a different view saying that it’s “most important to have a voice. Holding on to a town meeting because you’ve always done it that way is not democracy in my opinion.”

Select Board member George Timko wondered how informed people are if they don’t have the opportunity to discuss and debate the way they do in-person. “I’d rather have 38 people who have a better understanding and are more educated about issues voting than hundreds who aren’t informed,” he said.

Cavendish resident Mike McNamara saying he has always been informed, but couldn’t vote because he worked nights

Mike McNamara countered that he has always been informed, but because he worked nights for 20 years, he had not been able to vote.

“Not being in the room doesn’t mean you’re not informed,” said Select Board member Shannon Devereux.

Several people spoke of the reasons that people may not come out to the Monday night meetings including the difficulty older residents have with driving at night, voters who have young children at home and those working in the evening. While some spoke in favor of a Saturday town meeting with child care and food available, no one stepped forward to organize that.

And if the vote to continue with all Australian ballot voting passes on Tuesday, going to in-person Town Meeting on a Saturday will have to be voted on either by Australian ballot or from the floor of a special meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Wendy Regier asked for a show of hands of those who would be interested in having Town Meeting on a Saturday. There was no count, but it appeared that more than half of those in the room were in favor of trying a Saturday meeting.

Roads, cannabis and tax exemptions

The discussion of the budget turned on questions of road maintenance with several people asking how far the paving and gravel budgets would go toward bringing the town’s roads up to snuff. Martha Mott said that when she moved into her home 24 years ago, that portion of Twenty Mile Stream Road was paved, but now she can barely get her minivan through the mud, and sap trucks are making it worse.

Town Manager Richard Chambers said that town crews were planning on crushing a lot of stone this summer and they would go as far as they could. Last year was tough due to the flooding, but it will take some time before the roads are in good shape.

Referring to Article 4 that would allow retail cannabis, Sandra Russo wondered why there had not been informational meetings about the article. Chambers said that the article was placed at someone’s request. Russo said there still should have been informational meetings and discussions of the pros and cons beforehand. Russo also wanted to know if the wording meant there could be more than one shop in town and if there is any zoning control over the shop or shops.

Chambers told Russo that state statutes bar the town from enacting specific ordinances for cannabis stores.

The last four articles on the warning are to extend property tax exemptions to the town’s two fire districts and two tax exempt non-profits. A few residents questioned the benefit of exempting the Black River Health Center and the Fletcher Farm Foundation. Margo Caulfield recounted the history of the building, which was constructed to attract a primary health-care provider to the town.

Caulfield said that it had such a provider in Dr. Bont for many years, but there is no primary care offered there now. She noted that the original arrangement was that it would revert to the town in such a case and that in the current housing crunch it might best serve the town as a place for people to live.

Tim Calabrese, who serves on the Fletcher Farm Foundation board, outlined a number of donations and services it provides and the audience seemed to feel the tax exemption was worthwhile.

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