Reflection Connection: I Love Town Meeting
[Farewell Remarks by Amherst Town Meeting Moderator Harrison Gregg’s on his retirement November 28, 2012]
Like most of you, I love Town Meeting. I love the ideal of participatory democracy, the right to speak one’s mind, the right to petition one’s government for redress of grievances or simply to bring forward a good idea that might benefit the community as a whole. I love the reality of everyone in town – or at least those who care to do so - coming together to talk things out and share responsibility for the actions that will be taken in their name.
I love the way every issue has at least two sides and sometimes five or six, the way the undecided members of town meeting agonize over difficult decisions, swayed one way by one speaker, the other way by the next. I love the fact that those who come with their minds made up at least have to listen to the other side, and listen politely. I love the fact that these folks who have spent a few hours together facing the difficult choices of budgets and bylaws and zoning will never again be able – at least not honestly – to pretend that governing a town is an easy thing to do. I love it when reluctant taxpayers are persuaded to pay a little more for something worth having, and when those who come eager to promote their pet project discover that a town must choose among priorities.
I love when skeptics are persuaded and when dreamers are brought down to earth. I love it when the town administration or the planning board discovers that it hasn’t thought things through as thoroughly as it thought it had, when some mere town meeting member sees something that committees, boards, and town employees have missed. I love it when someone speaks from the heart and gives a mere issue a deeper meaning. I love it when the presenter of an article explains it so clearly that everyone understands it at once, or when an advocate for or against a motion presents an argument so lucid, so tightly reasoned that minds are changed and the inevitable becomes an impossibility.
I love it when, after listening to 45 reasons not to do a good thing, town meeting decides to do it anyway. There are other things that make me love being a moderator. I love remembering people’s names and guessing what they will say. I love knowing the rules and applying them well. I love treating everyone equally, fairly, and respectfully – even those who don’t deserve it. I love guiding the meeting through complex parliamentary situations. And finally, I love helping my town to make the decisions that have to be made.