Editorial: Annual Town Meeting, a tradition

Direct democracy is the principle of Ridgefield’s Annual Town Meeting — as opposed the representative variety that leaves people so ambivalent about politics and politicians. Motions are made and voting is done by taxpayers who’ll be pick up the tab. Any citizen can rise from the floor of the meeting to speak their mind.
The Annual Town Meeting is next Monday, May 6, in the Ridgefield Playhouse, starting at 7:30 p.m. People will be asked to approve— or reject — almost $900,000 worth of equipment purchases and construction and repair projects that are part of the town’s capital budget.
They’ll also be asked to affirm the selectmen’s scheduling of the annual budget referendum — which is, technically a part of the town meeting — for Tuesday, May 14, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with all voting at Yanity Gym. That referendum will give all town voters a chance to decide yes or no on the town and school operating budgets, as well numerous larger and more capital expenditures.
The capital expenditures going to voters at Monday’s town meeting tend to be less costly — none top $100,000. There are 28 of them, totaling $898,100. Any of them is open to discussion, motions, voting.
Some are quite interesting and might prompt questions directed to First Selectman Rudy Marconi or other town officials such as department heads expected to be there.
The police department’s requests include nearly $14,000 “laster crash and crime scene mapping system.” The Police say this is “a device used for more accurate measurements at motor vehicle accidents and crime scenes.” It is expected to “allow officers to document scenes in a much shorter period of time” and help police to do “scale diagrams as well as 3D and video presentations for court purposes.”
Police also want a new phone recording system. The upgrade will give the department “the ability to capture E-911 text messages as well as all E-911 and routine calls.”
The Fire Department, too, has worthy purchases coming before the meeting: a cardiac monitor and defribillators, a CPR device to continue Ridgefield’s very high level of care for heart attack victims being taken to the hospital in department ambulances. There’s also protective gear and air breathing tanks to help firefighters when they go into smoky buildings.
Many other items scheduled to come before town meeting voters seem that sensible if fairly routine: underground tank removals at three buildings (Yanity gym, town hall and the police station); repairs to tennis and basketball courts and the high school and Venus building complex; some snow plows for the highway department, and guardrail replacements; a lawn mower for the golf course; desktop computers that are used by library patrons and staff; replacement trees for the tree warden; a $44,000 payment for the second half of the two revision of the town plan of development.
The Annual Town Meeting has a fairly dedicated following among folks interested in town affairs. But it could draw more people. A charter revision on the ballot last November would have required a minimum of 2% of the town voters — about 360, based on the town’s 18,000 voters — for the meeting to do any dickering with the budgets. It didn’t pass, going down 5,073 (44%) ‘yes’ votes to 6,428 (56%) ‘no’ votes.
Folks, go to the annual meeting Monday. Question town officials about both the proposed capital expenditures and the $148 million for 2019-20 town and school operating budgets that will come before the referendum eight days later.
It’s democracy, old New England style and few communities — even in the U.S., never mind around the world — get to enjoy so pure a form of it.