Democratic View: Town Meetings

Ridgefield, like many towns in Connecticut and in other parts of New England, has a Town Meeting form of government. Its roots go back to Colonial times, when people would meet and make decisions about local issues by voting. They didn’t choose representatives to vote for them. They did it themselves.

There are some other forms of local government now, too. Some larger towns have Representative Town Meetings. Cities have mayors and city councils. But we have an Open Town Meeting. We have hands-on, participatory democracy. We all get to make decisions, and we all have to live with them.

We have municipal elections, too, of course, and we vote for local officials. We choose the five members of the Board of Selectmen, including the first selectman, who serves as the town’s chief executive. We choose the five members of the Board of Finance and the nine members of the Board of Education. We choose the members of other boards and commissions, and we choose a town clerk, a treasurer, a tax collector, and registrars of voters. But the legislative authority of the town belongs to the people. We have a Town Meeting once a year to vote on budget questions, and other meetings can be called during the year for matters that require a vote.

The agenda and a list of questions is published before the Town Meeting is held. A moderator is chosen. Elected officials and the heads of municipal departments attend the meeting and respond to questions from the voters. Some matters involving smaller amounts of money are handled by voice votes at the meeting. Matters involving larger amounts of money are handled at a referendum soon after the Town Meeting, but the questions and the schedule for the referendum are decided at the Town Meeting.

This year’s Town Meeting is scheduled for May 1. A lot of things will happen between now and then. Departments of the town government will submit funding requests. The Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance, and the Board of Education will hold public meetings to discuss and debate issues and to inform us of changes in regulations and funding sources. We’ll have public hearings on the budget questions. We’ll have opportunities learn about the issues and the trade-offs and the compromises, opportunities to voice objections, opportunities to make suggestions to make things better.

At the meeting, we’ll sit with our neighbors and we’ll exercise our rights and our duties as citizens. We have the right to vote, and we have the duty to do it in an informed way. We’ll hear complaints from some of the same people about some of the same things, of course, but we’ll hear from enthusiastic new voters and from new residents, people who have never been part of this form of government before. We’ll know that we’re in this together.

And we’ll make the decisions.

The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.