I drove to Stowe this morning to observe a real live town meeting. The sky over I-89 was clear and cold. Commentators from WDEV were talking town meeting on my car radio.
When I arrived at Stowe High School just after 9 a.m., the parking lot was full. Free muffins everywhere. More than 200 people in the auditorium.
A moderator called the meeting to order. First on the town meeting agenda was a proposed $9,355,964 operational budget. Were there any questions?
"Did you say no increase in property taxes?" a guy in the front asked incredulously. "I don't believe that."
Stowe selectboard member Heidi Scheuermann, who is also a Republican representative in the Vermont House, explained the particulars of the budget. I had a hard time following.
Discussion turned to municipal employees' salaries, health care, the prospect of a new hockey rink, potential windfalls from the federal stimulus package. Several folks in the audience tapped on laptops. Others glanced at newspapers or carried on quiet side conversations. I thought it odd how they were simultaneously attentive and preoccupied.
Just after 10, a woman stood up and proposed removing some capital improvement funds from this year's budget. The motion was put up for discussion. Grassroots democracy in action?
Heidi Scheuermann raised her hand. She said she understood the woman's frustration, but that the proposed budget calculations reflect a careful planning process. Eliminating the money now, she said, would be "detrimental in the long run."
A man in the audience raised his hand. Scheuermann is right, he suggested. "At a time like this, planning is exactly what we need."
I left before the matter was settled. Out in the hallway, two women were standing by the muffins. "I don't know what they're talking about in there," one said. "It's all very confusing."
As of this writing, it's still unclear what — if anything — Stowe voters will decide to do with their 1839 former church. An editorial in the February 19 Stowe Reporter urged that the structure be saved, not demolished.