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During a recent five-day stretch, eight candidates popped up across the state, their appearances fostered by groups of dedicated local volunteers. Enjoy more audio and podcasts on iOS or Android. To ensure that ordinary citizens can take part in the political process, the state begins its legislative sessions in winter, when farms lie fallow.
Few authors have studied and written about town meeting but, fortunately, the past decade has produced two well-researched books on the subject, both of which provide engaging history along with study of the process: The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Actionby Joseph F. Bryan published in In compiling the publication, Brown reviewed available records from colonial era towns in Massachusetts.
In history textbooks, Bryan found that with the arrival of these staged events, the pendulum had swung from negative mention or no mention of town meeting, to more positive and detailed discussion. Legislature to Address Important Municipal Issues.
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And while it might seem that interest in the affairs of local government is waning, if the rise of the blog is any evidence, many people do crave discussion, debate and dialogue about local issues. In the chapter, Town Meeting: An American Conversation, Bryan begins with the lofty words of scholars and writers following the Revolution, ideas which continued well into the s.
Over the century, interest in town meeting began to decline somewhat, but remained for the most part positive. Elevated by the great writers and scholars of the day, town meeting represented the best of American government. Bryan notes that, as the usage of the town meeting-style forum received increased exposure in the media, it was also followed by an increase in discussion of the topic in general.
The question of how to engage the citizenry in taking an active and productive part in town meeting—how to get them to attend and participate in the discussion—remains a challenge. Town Meeting. The concept of annual meeting evolved not long afterwards, and inWatertown, Massachusetts was the first to move to an annual meeting.
Records show that town meeting was a serious matter: attendance was mandatory—not only was it expected and required, failure to attend was punishable by a fine. Town meeting always does bring about a healthy sense of humor. Joseph F. Zimmerman conducted extensive research on attendance at town meeting during the town meeting and compared attendance with the three decades prior, findings which he published in The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action.
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Aside from increasing attendance s, just imagine what New Hampshire cities and towns could do with the revenue this rule would surely generate! With town meeting season upon us, it is important to recall the role this treasured style of governing has played in the shaping of our country.
Future of Town Meeting In the face of a steady decline in participation, in the mids, the New Hampshire legislature enacted the official ballot referenda, known as SB 2, in an effort to elicit stronger participation in the local decision-making process. In New Hampshire, town meeting dates to the earliest settlements of Dover and Portsmouth in Records of the time are scarce, but there is little doubt that the business of the town was discussed collectively by settlers and likely in the town meeting style of gathering.
But it was radio that really brought the concept into hearts across the country. Town Meeting in the Media While New England towns have continued to practice their noble form of government for several centuries, the institution of town meeting has experienced a bumpy ride in terms of its national identity. In the early days of town meeting in New England, as noted ly, failure to attend town meeting was an offense punishable by a fine.
Town Meeting in History Town meeting—the act of a group of individuals gathering together to make decisions—can be traced to the s. As town meeting evolved and colonists became more empowered by their government, it was increasingly seen as a threat to Britain. Undoubtedly, the media portrayed view of town meeting has affected the perception and understanding in the minds of Americans.
Many fear that the pressures of increased population and the demands of modern society threaten this uniquely New England institution. While this new option resulted in a ificant increase in the of individuals participating in the final decision process by voting, it produced a drastic decline in the of voters willing to participate in the debate and amendment of articles. And they clearly have plenty to say. A nationally recognized expert on the subject of town meeting, Professor Bryan has been studying town meeting sinceand following both its real and perceived image.
The first formal town government in New Hampshire did not appear untilin Exeter, followed by Dover and Portsmouth in Early reference to actions of town meeting can be found in Plymouth Colony records dating from The penalty in Dorchester for failing to fence properly a field was three shillings.
The evolution of town meeting
This new alternative allowed towns and school districts the option of debating and amending warrant articles but postponing final action until a second session where all questions are voted on by ballot. As settlements grew larger and evolved into more formal government structures, residents opted for fewer meetings. Town meeting fueled the spark that ultimately led to the American Revolution, and was lauded and studied for more than a century to follow.
Evidence exists to show that in the early days, towns people gathered at regularly scheduled weekly meetings, gradually moving toward a monthly or as needed schedule.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and television—and now the Internet—have all played a role in defining town meeting for the country. These three publications provide the source for material for the following history of town meeting. True town meeting is the purest form of democracy, as individuals gather to debate, discuss and decide upon matters that impact their lives and community. The Evolution of Town Meeting. Zimmerman cites that Cambridge, Massachusetts records show that on December 24,participants established the monthly meeting as the standard. Town meeting finds its roots in the earliest New England settlements, when towns people assembled to discuss and decide upon all matters that impacted the community.
February Influenza Pandemic Planning in New Hampshire. Article Topics:. The fate of town meeting in New Hampshire and in New England is a topic repeatedly discussed, and often at this very time of year. Engaging citizens by educating them as to the history—and the purpose—of their local town meeting may just provide a spark to reenergize this town meeting season. While times may change, it is up to those in the present to decide how to retain what this institution represents in New England, as an important part of American history.
Throughout the book, he provides numerous reference citations along with amusing personal anecdotes based on over 30 years of first-hand experience as a resident of a small Vermont town. In the years following the Great Depression, interest began to peak again, as popular magazines highlighted the institution using endearing images of small town life, inspiring thoughts of hope and the pursuit of the American dream. The article is available at the LGC Web site, www.