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2.08.2012

Decisions are made by those who show up

I did a bit of the usual bouncing around today. Had a doctor appointment, post office, picked up kids, made supper. You know, the usual. I got everyone seated around a meatloaf, left them in Grammo's care, and hustled out the door to the annual school meeting.

Here in New England we still have a visceral connection with our democracy. The voters all gather for a town hall meeting where the school board puts forward a budget and several other articles for a direct vote. It gives the townsfolk an opportunity to speak directly to the issues, state their approval or concerns, and even make changes to each and every item brought before the town. While the process has been watered down a bit in the past 10 years, it still remains an important function of how we stay connected and in control of both our town and school system.

There were only 4 articles to approve on tonights warrant, the third being the biggest - a $17+ million school district budget. As a taxpayer I want to know that our money is responsibly spent, and as a g-parent raising kids in all 3 of the town schools, I doubly want to know that the funds are well allocated.

I got there 10 minutes late - just in time to hear the school board chairman briefly describing the main budget article - and settled in to listen to the usual lively discussion and Q&A from the public. I barely found the page in my book when the moderator made a final call for comments. No one spoke! Not a peep. They moved on to the next agenda item without one of the 50 or so people there raising their hand. Which doesn't even speak to the hundreds who didn't even show up.

I used to sit on the other side of that table as an elected town offical who helped prepare a budget and even though the numbers gets poured over for months by 2 committees under public scrutiny, I never got through town meeting without a spirited debate from the public. But those times seem to have faded and here we were passing a sprawling budget with huge impact on our kids and the future of our school (and tax rate) and no one asked a question or made their views known.

All the voters in town will have a chance to vote it up or down next month. Most without knowing at all what their money is being spent on. They say decisions are made by those who show up. Well, from towns and schools and state legislatures all the way up to Congress and the presidency, it's time we all started showing up and raising our voices to understand each other in this democracy. In times as hard as these with so many difficult political and social issues to solve in our country just showing up to vote isn't enough.