From Budgets to Keno to Road Repair: It's Town Meeting Season in N.H.
This week, Granite Staters are meeting, many in blizzard conditions, to hash out their town's budgets and priorities -- either in the traditional town meeting form, when voting and discussion take place on the same day, or as part of a newer form of town government, known as SB2, which involves a deliberative session and a separate day for voting. We're sitting down with four seasoned town moderators to discuss how local government is working nowadays in their towns.
- Peter Basiliere: Milford town and school moderator for 10 years. Milford was one of the first towns to adopt the SB2 form of government, which involves a deliberative session. when the town discusses warrant articles and proposed budgets and a voting session, when voters cast an official ballot.
- Christopher Hawkins: Newmarket town and school moderator for five years. He has served in numerous local government positions, including town council, school board, and the town charter commission. Newmarket is an SB2 town.
- Steve Taylor: Steve Taylor is assistant town moderator for the town of Plainfield after serving for 31 years there as moderator. He also served for 25 years as the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture. Plainfield still conducts a traditional annual town meeting. Taylor is also a farmer and scholar of New Hampshire’s rural culture.
- Keith Young: Town moderator for Northumberland/Village of Groveton for about eight years. At 35, he has lived in the area since childhood, leaving for just a few years before returning. Northumberland/Groveton conducts traditional town meeting. Young was recognized last year as one of the state's young achievers in the 40 Under 40 program sponsored by the Union Leader and the N.H. Business and Industry Association.
N.H. braces for another snowbound town-meeting day.
WMUR is keeping track of 2018 Town Meeting day results.
Read a profile of Steve Taylor, who has been involved in local and state government for decades and is now assistant town moderator for Plainfield.
This transcript is computer-generated, and may contain errors. You'll get a better experience of the on-air conversation by listening to the audio posted above.
[00:00:00] From New Hampshire Public Radio I'm Laura Knoy and this is the exchange. Town elections were held yesterday because nor easter or not its Town Meeting season in New Hampshire. It's a venerable tradition here in the Granite State often lauded as the purest form of democracy. But how democratic is it when only five or 10 percent of residents turn out to discuss the issues. When certain groups seem to control the agenda when there's a storm and many people are stuck at home. In response to some of these concerns some towns especially in southern New Hampshire have in recent years switch to another format called SB 2 where voters aren't required to invest as much time deliberating. But traditionalists say there's a tradeoff for that convenience less understanding of the issues and less human connection with fellow town residents. Today an exchange. Do you attend your town meeting. Why or why not. If your town uses the SB to format what pros and cons do you see. Let us know. Our email exchange at our dot org. Again exchange at ??nh PR dot org responded Facebook or Twitter at any exchange. Give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. We have four town moderators with us for the hour. Keith Young joins us from Northumberland village of Groveton where he's been. Town Moderator for eight years. That area holds traditional town meeting. And Keith thank you very much I know it was a late night for you we really appreciate you being with us. Thank you.
[00:01:34] Steve Taylor is also with us in studio assistant town moderator for Plainfield after serving 31 years as moderator. And Steve also served 25 years as the state's commissioner of agriculture. Plainfield by the way conducts a traditional town meeting and Steve welcome. Good to see you. Good to be here. Also with us Christopher Hawkins new market towns and school moderator for the past five years. And Chris has served in numerous local government positions including town council school board. The town charter commission Newmarket isn't SB to town. Chris good to meet you. Thank you for coming in. Thank you for having to be here. Also with us Peter Basiliere Milford Town and school moderator for ten years and Milford was one of the first towns to adopt SB 2 form of government. And Peter good to meet you and thank you also for making the trip. You're very welcome. Well all of you. First I would just love an update of what happened yesterday with your town elections. Maybe you had a meeting yesterday maybe you didn't. Given the storm and Steve Taylor I'll turn to you first. Well it snowed like the dickens in Plainfield and it's I think it's still snowing as we speak. We've had voting our business meeting will be on Saturday. But I would say about 10 percent of our voters came out of the hot contests on the ballot. So that's fine. Back on previous Saturday we had our school district meeting went on about three and a half or four hours.
[00:02:49] But everything passed but there was some real thoughtful discussion about our biggest problem with our school and that's declining enrollment and that's a issue we see happening around New Hampshire and in a few minutes Steve will sort of do a town meeting Civics 101 series of questions including why these meetings are broken up and what happens between voting and Deliberative Session. But to you next I think Christopher Hawkins what happened yesterday in Newmarket and Newmarket we had heavy snow and we worked very hard with our public works crews to keep our heater polling place clear and open and we had the police giving people rides to the polls. If asked for Millau really yes. And that's something that our police chief offers as a service mainly to two senior citizens to give them an opportunity to come out. We had about 9 percent. We had about six hundred ninety four people turnout which is about 100 to 150 behind what we would normally expect. Nothing particularly controversial on the ballot this year. So a little bit lower than we would normally expect primary on account of the weather and I believe because nothing's particularly special in the warrant this year. Yeah. So you guys given that your SB 2 you voted yesterday when were your deliberative sessions we actually hash out the issues. Sessions were about a month ago. Oh wow OK. So if I remember right mid mid February our Deliberative Session for the town lasted no more than 20 minutes and for the school probably around no more than a half hour. And they are they have typically been increasingly poorly attended and there's very little substantive discussion that goes on particularly this year.
[00:04:29] The only things on the on the on the warrant were the operating budget and then we had a police contract and that's it. All right. Well a little bit later. Talk a little bit more about that because that's really interesting. And Peter Basiliere what about you what happened yesterday. Well we had actually a much better turnout I expected. LOHR In Milford though Foote's Sacu. We ended up with the 1919 voters. We actually registered 79 new voters yesterday and we were open from 6 to 8. The tenants the voters came in until noontime strong very strong and then it went off the cliff and we went from having about 200 on average every hour to 70 and 80 hour per hour. Up until 8:00 o'clock last night. But the voters came out with numbers that were just slightly better than last year when I had postponed the meeting to Saturday and we had just over 8500 voters that showed up on that day. So civically engaged there in Milford. The polls open from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. That's right. So long day a very long day we gather for breakfast at 5:00 we open the if we go to the middle school or 530 we open the polls at 6:00 and I was home at 10:00 last night after we put the ballots in the town hall my gosh and here you are with us this morning and I know you had a little bit of a trip here so really appreciate and keep young. Last but not least. How about you what happened in Northumberland village Groveton. We know we had a better turnout than expected as well. We the only. There was a couple of races but it really it was pretty much just selectman.
[00:06:03] But we had about 20 percent turnout. But the weather was much better than we thought and I have been to get 241 of course we're a pretty small town so but everything was everything went pretty good. We actually had the selectmen went down to 3 vote difference and we called them that night. And while the guy wanted a recount we were already right there. So we open them all back up did the recount while everyone's there instead of trying to get back together. So interesting night anyway. Well and again a late night for you sir really appreciate it and so much for the idea that you know my vote doesn't count right. I mean three votes so. So you all are going to have to clarify a couple things for me. I live in a city I do not attend town meetings so there's a lot of stuff that I think a lot of people just don't understand either they don't live in a town that city so that you know have town meeting or they don't attend. So they don't know how it works and Steve to you first so who has town meeting and who doesn't. First of all well about 160 towns still hang onto the traditional town meeting where all the voters who are on the checklist are eligible to be part of the town meeting and to be able to participate in the discussion the debate and then vote right there on the spot. And so it's a one and done kind of situation. There's a what's called a warrant.
[00:07:29] It warns people to come specific time and place sit down and go through an agenda that's been prepared by the Board of Selectmen and so hear all sides. And then there's a vote. And that's the end of it right there. You move on to the next item on the agenda and this system has its roots way back in the 60s. Hundreds. This is the way little villages settlements govern themselves. It has a close affinity to that. Now the Congregational Church model where local residents local members of the parish decide the fate of issues on the spot right there. So 160 towns in New Hampshire have traditional town meetings. It's about a third of the population of New Hampshire. OK. So and the cities you know Concord Berlin Keene they don't have Town Meeting they've got you know selectmen or city councils and so forth. So you said traditional town meeting you come you debate the issues whether it's the budget or the renaming of the schoolhouse or whatever and you vote right there it's a one and done correct but is that what happened in Plainfield yesterday. Did you have just vote and just voted yesterday for Officer. Correct. And then Saturday we'll get together at 10:00 in the morning and we'll plow through the agenda on the previous very last Saturday. The school district had its meeting very similar format are exactly the same. And we tackled day issues of funding the school setting aside capital reserve funds for specific purposes and that kind of thing. But again we decided when we went home that evening business of the school district or settle for the year.
[00:09:14] So if I want to be a civically engaged voter in Plainfield I need to set aside Saturday for a school meeting. Sounds like pretty big time commitment and then Tuesday for voting for selectman or whatever. And then the following Saturday for Town Meeting You know budgets and so forth outside. That's a big commitment. Yes it is. And that's really what sort of brought us to SB. Two of my colleagues will explain how that functions and it's sort of a hybrid between city government and the old traditional town meeting form. But that as you say it is a conclusive kind of thing that a lot of people like to hang onto they are very defensive about it. I happen to be one of those. Well and you're allowed. Absolutely I'm remembering when my kids were little especially though I don't think I could've devoted that amount of time Steve to being civically engaged in Plainfield you're right. That has been a complaint. We heard in Plainfield but we try to take steps to make the meeting move along as rapidly as possible. We have a vote on anything involving money. We have a recorded number numeric vote and now we can have people sit in their seats. We gather a little tear off ballots counted in less than six or seven minutes and we move right along. During that interlude while people are counting the ballots we always make certain that maybe the 7th grade chorus comes in and sings a couple songs. That's right. Somebody gets up and pitches the the wild game dinner that's going to come up.
[00:10:55] All of these things to keep it moving and people both know that people folk and I'm starting to realize now that there's a reason that this is also Girl Scout cookie season on meaning season Girl Scout cookie season. No coincidence there. I want to remind our listeners that you can join us just with your basic questions about how this form of government works. Traditional Town Meeting is Steve Taylor explain and speak to the SB 2 format that we'll hear about in just a moment. So your questions are welcome of course and your comments and personal experiences with local town governance here in the Granite State. Our number is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send us an email exchange at NHPR dot org. Again exchange at NHPR dot org. You can respond on Facebook or Twitter at NHPR exchange we've got four town moderators with us today Keith Young. He is the town moderator for Northumberland village of Groveton and Steve Taylor assistant town moderator in Plainfield. Christopher Hawkins Newmarket town and school moderator. And Peter Basiliere at Milford Town and school moderator and up to our two guests. Christopher you first please so how does it work in Newmarket because it sounds like from what Steve said It's pretty different. Yeah we're in SB 210 which means we have a a deliberative session where the warrant is adopted by the Town Council the town council from a government as opposed to selectmen. We have a seven member governing body of the town and the school district is separate is a separate school board. So the school board and the town council adopt their respective warrants and a warrant is yeah go ahead. Tell us what that is.
[00:12:36] It's the it's the kind of legal expression of what it is you want to accomplish. So you're operating budget and the language for the language of the word will be dictated by statute and review by Department of Revenue Administration and it basically doesn't change very much from year to year. And it says this is how much we propose to expand to operate the district for the coming year. This is the anticipated tax rate impact and this is what will happen if the budget is rejected. What you'll default to the previous year's budget. And then whatever else you want to accomplish there is say a bond. We had a bond last year for school construction that will be on there. There's a contract like a union contract needs to be approved that will be on the warrant contributions to capital improvement accounts. Things like that would typically go on the go on the warrant that gets presented to the deliberative session and it gets debated in a similar fashion to what would happen in a traditional town meeting on a Saturday so people can come on a Saturday so people can come. We arrange for childcare for people we typically do it depending on the volume of people we anticipate either in the high school gymnasium or in the basement of town hall. My experience has been when the voters are unhappy about something they will turn out in large numbers and they will they will let you know. And if my experience if they're generally content than a turnout of smaller numbers and they have very little comment to say. So I like to think that the the numbers don't indicate a lack of interest.
[00:14:13] I like to think that it indicates that they're generally happy with the way things are going. Not that they're not engaged in the way the town council form of government works. We have many many other ways for people to engage rather than just showing up once a year and participating in town meeting. I'm sure every town does. The town council operates through a series of committees to address specific issues like. Years ago I chaired the recreation master planning committee. So the council set up a separate committee to go and address focus on that issue and come back and report. So it operates in a more we get more voices involved I think and then the council kind of sits in a more or less an executive policymaking function on top of committees that address specific issues and that's how we go about trying to foster engagement. How do you think this switch has worked for your town Chris and Peter I'd like to hear from you too on this going from traditional town meeting to SB 2. I think it's a tradeoff. And I think I think you mentioned that earlier. I believe in the time I've been in town since 1995 that the town has made a lot of very important progress and basic infrastructure and economic development. And I think I like to think that that has a lot to do with getting a lot of different lot of different people engaged in the process and increasingly over the years I believe we've professionalized our town administration functions become better and stronger we get outstanding contributions from our time employees and that respect.
[00:15:54] So I think the town has progressed to the point of being better and more professionally managed with a lot of different voices engaged in it. But the tradeoff is you go to a deliberative session in the last 20 minutes and people don't have a lot to say. And so you wonder are people really engaged or not. So I think it's a tradeoff. You're listening to the exchange on NHPR. Peter Love the thoughts from you too about this. The difference between these two and the tradeoffs involved is the major difference is that as Keith was saying earlier is that we have gone from a place where every voter was on the list could come and talk and debate and it would be a lively debate was back in the day I was on the school board and before that the school budget committee and one party would make a proposal the other party responded we could open it up the discussion and you could honestly see people changing their minds as they listened to the debate and they understood more about the details of the respective proposals whereas today we with an S.P. to town where we have and we have two forms of us speak to one for the town and one for school government and in the Deliberative Session we go through the warrant just as a town meeting does. But instead of having several hundred people come to the high school gym and discuss and debate and decide. Now we have this year we had 170 people. The other 67.
[00:17:30] And you have to also remember that that includes the town officials that are registered voters in those numbers and people who may be town employees or school district employees who are also residents and of course entitled to speak so the people who do not have active role in the town is a small portion of the small number of people who actually come to the Deliberative Session. So those who have said have a dog in the fight are more likely to show up. Yes absolutely. And I'm surprised frankly Laura that we haven't seen a major event happening along those lines at one of our deliberative sessions because so few people can go and change a warrant article. And in the case of a school meeting it only has a two hour meeting. Oh I see. OK Chris Crystal quick to you and then I want to get Keith Young in as well. Yeah I just wanted to make the point that our preference would be to have every single registered voter turn out for every meeting. But that just doesn't happen. I mean we'd like to then you know exactly how well or how poorly you're doing because people are there to tell you directly. And we wish that what happened is just it just hasn't worked out that way. That's really unfortunate. Very unfortunate. We have more debate on social media than we do in the meetings itself. Very interesting and I actually have an e-mail here from someone who says from Louis who says what sorts of progressive steps if any are being taken to utilize technology such as live streaming or social media to engage more town members who can't physically be at the meeting. And Keith Young. Throw that to you first. It's an interesting question. Well as far as technology goes we haven't done anything.
[00:19:13] So I guess bridge that gap. And I'm not really sure there's a there's no way to do that. You know you could possibly you know live stream the whole meeting but there was out you know checking to make sure the person on the other side is a registered voter of the town. And I think that the I think that the a pretty hard nut to crack especially in our format where it's Town Meeting it's you know people have their say and then we vote. You know we don't do tickets we just hand everybody a card or they stand up. And that's how things pass. And I think in our case I think in our case it works about as well as it can. You sound Keith pretty happy with the way things are working there. It sounds like people are still pretty engaged and yeah the traditional Tamizh working yeah go ahead. Yeah we've we've really got a lot. We have a you know traditionally we have a really good turnout every year for both the school and the town our school meetings usually aren't that long and we do and back to back then at Saturday and 9:00 o'clock all day. The school meeting and then we have the town meeting at 10:00. And I think last year the school ran over by an hour and a half. So the town didn't it until it was over obviously. But but you know any time anything gets real sensitive or someone's afraid of emotional stuff we just we do a secret ballot so people don't feel like they're hurting everyone's feelings by voting one way or the other.
[00:20:59] And then we just send everybody you know one lines up and vote yes or no one into the box and then that bad issues over there too. Yeah. Sorry Keith. Go ahead Steve. Yeah. Oh I've noticed. Well I I think in playing field that let's say we have 300 people show up for the actual town meeting of fifteen hundred and some odd. I think the vast majority of the people who aren't there are trusting of those people who go and speak and deliberate and cast votes to trust them to make the right decision on their behalf. Always be a few who say I don't like what the town did but they didn't bother to go to the meeting. They shrug their shoulders and move on. But an awful lot of people say you know I should go to town meeting but I don't I'd rather go snowmobiling. There's a good matinee theater in Hanover or something and that's what they choose to do and they think I know my neighbors over cross the street. They're going to go. They really study this stuff and whatever they decide I'm on board. It gets to what Chris talked about earlier that satisfaction when people don't show up. Maybe it means they're disengaged but maybe it just means that they're satisfied. So we will take a lot more questions and comments after a short break. And Louis thank you for that e-mail.
[00:22:26] The number for you to join us is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 everyone could do with a bit of Irish luck now and again which is why you should support NHPR or today when you do you'll get not one or two chances to win a trip to Dublin Ireland courtesy of Milan travel American Express. That's two chances to see the brilliant pips Amar stroll through St. Stephen's Green or drinking some knowledge at the old Jameson distillery. The lucky winner will be picked on St. Patty's Day. But you can increase your odds now with your gift today at NHPR dot org. This is the exchange I'm Laura Knoy today for town moderators on the tradition of town meeting and how it's carried out today. Let's hear from you. Did you vote in town elections yesterday. Do you typically attend your community's deliberative sessions. Why or why not. Let us know send us an email exchange at NHPR dot org. Again exchange at NHPR dot org or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Our moderators are Keith Young. He's in Northumberland village of Groveton. He's held the position of moderator for eight years. That committee holds a traditional town meeting. Steve Taylor is also here Assistant Town Moderator in Plainfield. He served three decades as moderator. Also he served 25 years as the state's commissioner of agriculture. Plainfield also conducts a traditional town meeting and then we have two moderators from SB two towns Peter Basiliere. He's from Milford where he's been the town and school moderator for 10 years. Christopher Hawkins he's new markets town and school moderator for the past five years.
[00:24:31] One more time the e-mail address for you to join us with your questions and comments exchange at NHPR dot org exchange at org or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And Peter just a moment ago I threw an e-mail from Louis to Steve and Keith and I'd like to get your thoughts too. Louis asks again what sorts of steps are being taken to utilize technology live streaming social media to engage more town members who can't physically be at the meeting. I think it's a great question. I wonder what you do in Milford in Milford we are we broadcast on both the town and the school deliberative sessions so that they can be watched live. It's not an interactive stream it's all one way so you can't let it go because we haven't checked you when and if you haven't checked them we don't know that you're a resident who is entitled to vote. And so the streaming is one way. However there is lively debate and social media up to and I'm sure even during some of the events no doubt yesterday there was a lot of social media conversation about whether we should be even holding the election the election just today because of the storm. But I think it will be very difficult to have it a two way in part because again we have to be assured this because this is a town event and we want to make a positive that only people that are contributing residents of the town or people like some of our officials who live outside of town who which the body has approved to speak to to the voters. Another question about technology slightly different for you Chris. Please. What about recording devices. You know everybody's got a recording device and a camera on their cell phone.
[00:26:23] If I stood up a new market and started giving a passionate speech could somebody else hold up their phone and record me. Making that passionate speech. Yes. In a word yes. Because it's a public forum. It's whatever I say is public or whatever you say is public. And if you're if you're a public official go on about your business and you can be recorded doing that is my understanding of the way. Sure the way to lower it if I'm just Joe or Jane Citizen and I get up make a speech somebody else in the audience can can record me while I'm talking. Yeah and Newmarket. All of our all of our public meetings from those VBA to the council the school board are Deliberative Session they're all televised live to the extent that that's possible and if they're not in a room with a lot of television camera then they are recorded for later broadcast. OK. And I'm always surprised to hear that people actually watch it. Are you surprised that Laura and that is are for people who have a religious objection to having their images captured. We have not encountered that but we will make every effort to honor that restriction. But it is us as Chris are saying a public meeting and what is being said by that individual is a matter of public record. Well another e-mails come in. John says the biggest problem with SB 2 is lack of oversight of default budgets. John says no real check and in my honest opinion the board and administrators often overinflate.
[00:27:45] So the budgets continue to rise and voters at the polls end up with no real choice John says. That said SB 2 still gets more people per dissipate. Chris what do you think. Well I'm not sure what he means by there's no check on the default budget. Our are our operating budgets have remained relatively stable over the past several years not going up year to year. Not to say not going up at all. Sometimes they go up sometimes they go down depending on the assessment. But there's a lot of reasons for that. We have a capital improvement program which is another whole topic perhaps for discussion where capital expenditures are now built into the budget and they're allocated to accounts that are defined under statute as as a defined capital improvement program with its own separate oversight committee. So we have through that program we have basically eliminated spikes in our tax rate to address special projects beyond bonding for schools and things facilities like that. In Milford we have I think what the caller was getting to. We had a situation yesterday where if you voted in favor of the school budget you voted for a 40 million dollar plus budget. But if you voted against that school our operating budget the full number was actually a few thousand dollars higher than the budget if you had voted in favor of it. And I think many people have the perspective that they think a default budget should automatically be less than the budget being proposed by the board. Now that is a little tricky. It is.
[00:29:24] And I believe there are some initiatives underway in Congress at the statehouse to address because the the board boards have very strict requirements for how they calculate a default budget that's governed by advice from the Department of overdue administration. But what happens is if you have a board who was aggressive in paring back costs in the current year they actually could have resulted in a budget that is less than a fall from the year before because of the work that they were doing to reduce control costs. Well John thank you for the question you can send us an e-mail as well. Exchange at ??nh PR dot org exchange at NHP dot org or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. So all of you besides fluctuations in participation what are some of the biggest changes you've seen at town meeting. In the years that you've been involved in Keith I want to go to you first. Is it. People seem better informed about the issues or less well informed. Have people's attitudes changed people's manners changed. I mean what's changed in the years that you've been involved with this case. Actually you know our town. Not to sound corny but go ahead respond. Most of us you know we pretty much get along and and when we go to the town meeting everyone is pretty respectful to everybody. The reason I have one guy in our town that it doesn't matter what the warrant article is he is going to ask a question. It could be the simplest thing it could be anything but every single warrant article he asks the question and eventually to the near the end of the meeting it almost gets comical. But it's you know everyone's very patient.
[00:31:19] Everyone realizes you know this is their right. And they let everybody have their say and you know we it to a vote. And it really I think that I think it actually helps bring the town together even if some people disagree. It's not you know it's not Republican Democrat and in town politics in small town politics it's you know this a good thing for all of us or not. We're here now together as a group let's make a decision. So that's really encouraging actually. And Steve I want to hear from you too. You know in national politics there's so much talk about a general lack of civility a general lack of really caring what somebody with a different viewpoint might feel has that spread down to your town meeting in Plainfield. Fortunately no I think the greatest change that's occurred in my lifetime that I began going to Plainfield town meeting with my folks when I was about 10 years old. I think I've made every one except the time I was in the army. But the the thing that strikes me most about that is this that the great town meeting orators have gone away. I remember in my childhood in the early years of my adulthood we had people in playfield they were typically people worked with their hands they were farmers or woodsmen but they had no fear. They weren't educated they didn't have degrees but they would stand and speak from the heart about that particular issue. It might be a really minor thing like what do we do with the dogs that the dog catcher rounds up.
[00:32:53] But they spoke in a way that would change people's views and then they sat down. Those people kind of gone away today. Awful lot of people treat the town meeting more like a press conference where they hurl questions at the selectmen or at the school board. Often the questions are kind of tendentious but that's. Well is it true that you spent eighty thousand dollars on Frieman Road while Daniels Road was rotting down. Don't you think it should have been diverted over to Daniels road. Well OK legitimate question but so I have got up come up with an answer. They're not prepared for that. They don't know this is coming. So they've got to be able to think quickly on their feet. Many old days one of those great orators would have stood up and framed the thing for them. And of course the thing I probably miss the most is the great thick rural accents that these guys spoken. So what do you think is behind that shift because that's actually kind of remarkable still while it's rising education and people have prepared them so know there have prepared themselves. They've read the town report they read that budget numbers may be a problem. They all just about everybody knows the selectmen they know the school board. The sinfully trust them but and they have decided to trust and let somebody else's judgment prevail because they trust these people's goodwill how about you guys why don't you go first. Peter what changes have you noticed if any. Over the years you've been involved in this either how people feel about it or how they behave or the questions they ask. I have noticed a change in terms of civility.
[00:34:46] It's still there. And I think that's one of the roles a moderate has to play in the meeting is to assure that all the sides that wish to speak are able to do so. And I think part of the part of that is the formality of a town meeting and how we or how we actually run the meeting and the authority that the moderator has in doing that. But I do think with deliberative session we don't have the debate that we had before. It's more focused on the warrant article. The school board or the board will make their recommendation. The budget committee will come up with theirs and then we'll have a few people that ask questions about it but not necessarily trying to make a strong persuasive argument. We have a few. Don't get me wrong I mean people who are opposed to 40 million to all the schools operating budget will take the floor and commander for a while to ask questions but the. Because we only have 60 or 70 people out of over 11000 who could show up. They're not they're not affecting a change. How about you Chris Yeah I've been given a lot of thought to what I've heard here this morning and trying to put it in the context of what I see. Steve makes an excellent point. So many so much of the discussion is focused on the specific details of things now.
[00:36:09] And it's it's rare that we have what I call an historian somebody who's got a sharp historical grasp of the way the town has developed over several decades who can put who could put a question into that kind of a context to the development of the town. And Steve was nodding his head at me so I know I know I'm on the right track. The historians are people who have a long term grasp of the way the town is developed. We say a new market that there are no new discussions there are only old discussions that are recycled as new people come to discover hey our school really needs to be improved. Well we've had this discussion 20 years ago 10 years ago five years ago. So it's important to have that perspective when somebody does speak from the heart with with the larger perspective it makes a big impact on the meeting. Well coming up in just a moment we'll talk about some of the issues that came up in your town this year whether it's schools or Keno or so and so if what you're listening to the exchange on NHPR go ahead Steve Taylor. We have to put in here how important the moderator is. These things don't function without a good moderator. And I was in the newspaper business for years and years and I covered a lot of town meetings. And if the moderator was floundering or didn't know how to maintain the pace order of the meeting things fell apart. And that's when people begin to begin to see incivility and a good moderator is worth everything and moderators about the only office we elect we don't run on that platform. You don't have to advocate for or against the Don't you need to have integrity and you need to have confidence to stand up and hold things together.
[00:38:02] Keith Young you've been told moderator in Northumberland village a group of for eight years you a relatively young guy. What was it like the first year to sort of get up and do this thing because as our other guests have said you've got to be good at it or things get out of control. Yeah it was it was kind of interesting I kinda got thrown into the fire actually just prior to the town meeting the prior moderator who before that was I think he was the chief or I don't know exactly what he was but he actually moved out of town. So he was no longer a resident so he could no longer be moderator. So with about two weeks notice the or it was it wasn't much time they needed to find somebody pretty quick because it just kind of dawned on them that he moved and all of a sudden they needed somebody to run the meeting. So I volunteered. I think it was time I was thinking I was going to be you know maybe a one time thing. But I should have known that it was you know if it went well it was going to be a lifetime position. He must have done a decent job but was it like that first day to just get up there in front of your fellow residents and say OK I'm in charge here. I think well you know I'm you know I've lived there all my life everybody knew me and everybody kind of knew I was getting thrown into it. But on the flip side nobody else wanted to do it.
[00:39:24] So they were very thankful and everyone is very very understanding that I was I was new. But but again you know we have a pretty caring community. So nothing. Know it wasn't anything that was to too emotional that anything really got out of hand or too terrifying. Christopher Hawkins how about you. Your thoughts on the role of the moderator and what you tried to do with that. I think it's I think Steve's exactly on the money for me. I look at it as kind of the way that I approach trying to coach sports which is if you are calm they will be calm if you are organized they will perceive that you are organized and together they will give you an easier time if you come in and you're flustered and you're disorganize you're not sure what's going on. They can sense that and it makes them uncomfortable and it makes for a more difficult meeting. So I try to sit down in advance of the deliberative session with the school board and the town council and say what are we doing. Who's Booth who's is moving these motions. Who's doing the explaining. Let's walk through this so that I'm never uncertain about who is it addressing what issue. And it just creates the perception that the people are responsible which is the moderator and the council and the school board have their act together and the people can express their views on the merits of the motion and not have to worry about mechanics of things because it's all very relaxed and very easy and organized well and peer is the role of a moderator different in an SB2 town than a traditional town meeting town or is that still pretty much the same.
[00:41:02] It's still pretty much the same. It's about managing the process of the meeting. SS unfortunately nowadays though instead of saying that the vote has been decided and this is what we're going to do I move that the item be put on the warrant so that the voters are actually on the ballot so the voters can vote on it at the election. So the closing of that is altogether different. It's the same effect you know in a sense but we're not actually deciding something we're putting it onto the ballot and that's it's a funny way to have to close the discussion of a topic of over 40 million operating budget or three and a half million dollar fire station upgrade that type of thing. So it's not a one and done like Steve Taylor said. Basically you are deciding to put it on the warrant so that the voters can look at it. Well it's all on the ballot literally because the warrant is what warns the voters that is happening and then we are now moving those articles from the warrant onto the ballot. All right. Coming up I do want to ask everybody what some of the big items were on the agenda or are on the agenda in your town. I got a couple e-mails too that are coming in saw share those with you. Stay with us. This is the exchange on NHPR This is the exchange I'm Laura Knoy. Today it's mating season. We're talking with four town moderators about how this tradition occurs in their communities. Let's hear from you too. Do you attend your town meeting. Why or why not.
[00:42:42] And if your town uses the SB 2 format what pros and cons do you see with that. Would love to hear from you send us an email exchange at NHPG dot org again exchange at NHPR dot org our four moderators are Keith Young with Northumberland village of Grafton. Steve Taylor With Plainfield Christopher Hawkins with Newmarket and Peter Basiliere with Milford. One more time that email address is exchange at N H PR dot org. So gentlemen we've talked a lot about how town meeting or SB 2 rolls out in your town. We've heard some stories about how things have changed or not changed to you first. What were maybe the two biggest issues before your town this year was a key no. Was it housing. Was it the opioid crisis. What are people really talking about the most. Most places. You know the biggest thing is generally always the school budget because it's the largest item it's the one that they see is the most impactful. Everyone is always going to have questions about the school budget. The other one actually is we have a thing about changing the hours of our polling time when that when the voting is going to be open. And that is always a very sensitive subject. And and I think some people misunderstand that as trying to limit access to that polling place. But I don't think that's the case. I think it's just trying to be reasonable. You know right now where we do 9 2 9 to 7. But in that section of 97 you know we have 200 40 some odd people show up.
[00:44:30] So it's spread pretty thin throughout the day. So that's an issue in your town. Just how long are you going to hold the balloting. Yeah how about you Steve Taylor What were some of the big issues on the ballot. Certainly there are two things. One is to merge the two volunteer fire departments into a single municipality controlled department. These two fire departments have existed for more than a half a century and they're basically private clubs and in recent years the town has given each a little stipend a stipend but they've had their own Jeev their own buildings their own equipment and all of that and they raised most of their money themselves. But the way the insurance laws are now and worker comp and all those kinds of things it's a bigger thing than a small private organization can handle. So we're going to try to merge those. The town will take them over and the selectmen will appoint the fire chief. So that's that. The other thing is sort of similar Plainfield is a bizarre town in that we've always had two villages until modern times they were separated by mud. I mean money that you if it was being held in one of the villages you had to go to Claremont or Lebanon to get there you couldn't go through Plainfield to get to the other village. So it rose up we had to post offices do phone exchanges to fire department in. This crazy stuff and we finally built a central school and paved the road and that helped a lot. But we have to libraries we fix up one about 20 years ago. And that's lovely.
[00:46:12] But now the other library is say hey we want to upgrade. We're not a DA compliant and so on. So some people say jeez we already got one fancy library why do we need to. Others say it's an important piece of the community. We've got to have it. Well I feel. Steve how many people. Fifteen hundred eighty on the checklist about 27 28 hundred population. We're we're still have a lot of agriculture but we're a bedroom town for Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth. So a small town two libraries two volunteer fire departments because of that muddy road. Yeah. And so now at Town Meeting the whole issue is do we merge which one do we beef up. Exactly. That's really interesting. How about you Peter. What was sort of the two hottest digs. Steve a great sales person. I want to move up there everywhere. On the town side the major item was the upgrade to the fire fire station three and a half million dollar upgrade. And because it's a bond issue it requires 60 percent approval. So yesterday in the storm the blizzard all day long. Firefighters were out there you know campaigning for it and unfortunately we passed it with a 68 percent number. So it was very overwhelming support in the community for upgrading the fire this fire station which doesn't have sprinklers in it actually and then the fire station doesn't have sprinklers. It was built in 75 or 77 and it doesn't have fire sprinklers. I mean I guess they could always use the hoses but still maybe that was the thinking of saving a little money.
[00:48:00] But on the school side the big one was full day the garden whether Milford should move from a half day or full day kindergarten. Just consider Keno. Also we also consider you know did it pass it passed but it was like no debate no discussion even at the deliberative session. There was none of all the Millford yesterday. All but one of the articles between the school and the town past the one that was probably the closest actually was kindergarten where it was like 970 920 or something like that and how many people in Milford there's about 15000 people and over 11000 registered voters. OK. And how about you Chris what were some of the top issues before your town. We didn't have anything special or especially controversial on the warrant this year. Last year we had our school bond that was a culmination of a 12 to 15 year process it took to get that done. And then construction as if it stopped snowing. We'll break ground on that in the next month 30 to 45 days which is sure to generate some comment. An issue that we have coming up that we've been looking out for a little while as we have a dam downtown. The McCaslin dam that's associated with some of our old mill buildings and there's a discussion about whether that should be removed or partially removed or how that's dealt with. Yeah that's an issue because people are concerned about old dams and safety and if it breaks you know people could get hurt.
[00:49:34] We don't have we don't have a problem with downstream threat to people's safety it's just the dam doesn't serve any purpose it's not a flood control. It's an old hydro electric for a long defunct hydro electric plant and it's just. How does that. How would removing it affect affect affect the Lamprey river. And that's not an immediate issue of concern things like I have a lot of sympathy for Steve though merging to volunteer fire departments is a large task and there's no such thing as a small issue. Just because you're in a smaller town very well put. Yeah we have nothing at that level of what I'm sure is a lot of discussion in Plainfield. Have you guys looked at Keno in Newmarket. Yeah. Keno passed by a very narrow margin. My experience with Keno is the same as Petes which is there was no real discussion of it. I don't know there hasn't been buzz in the community that I've heard about it. It just was a petitioned warrant article by a former member of Our Town Council and went on the warrant and it passed by pretty narrow margin. And I don't know what that means and I don't know if anybody really knows what that means. Maybe Pete knows and petition on articles difficult to get passed because they don't have the imprimatur of a slick border or the school board proposing it and asking for it and then whether the budget committee goes along with a petition more on articles in and of themselves are oftentimes difficult to pass. Keith I should have asked you as well. Is Keno even being considered where you are. No he didn't have any Toccoa. Yeah Steve. No not in Plainfield.
[00:51:05] Okay well here's another email that came in from Mike and he titles it. The good the bad and the ugly. So thank you Mike. He says as a transplant who has attended town meeting since arriving. I find it very a very rewarding form of civic engagement. On the negative note some of the worst civic arguments that I've heard have been made at town meeting such as you should support budget proposals because the selectmen are good people and we shouldn't question them. Mike says. So I have to wonder if anybody in the history of Town Meeting has ever been swayed by an argument made on the floor. And Keith what do you think. Yeah definitely. We've had had plenty of things I can remember one specifically that was but like a pretty emotional speech we had a warrant. And I think it was petition's so this may be a little off off topic but we had a warrant for us to vote on as a town defining marriage or something like that. And someone stood up and gave a lengthy talk against us even voting one way or another on this and given this question the time of day. So we know. And then they made a motion to pass over. So we didn't even do a yes or no no vote on that based on that guy's speech and it was it was kind of an overwhelming overwhelming thing and it was definitely one of those nice nice moments that they were talking about or where somebody stood up and it was really heartfelt discussions. Some of those heartfelt speakers that Steve Taylor mentioned earlier. Thank you for the e-mail Mike.
[00:52:49] You're listening to the exchange on NHPR how about you Steve Taylor. Have you seen sort of transformation happen on that town meeting floor. Well yeah. Over the years certainly have been many times. Very often on a relatively small issue. One time we had really we had an article a petition and article to declare some kind of a creditor that was found in the bed of the Connecticut River the town mollusk. I mean some people got up and they raged. This doesn't even belong here. This is a joke making us all look stupid and everything and this little gal she stood up with a little hat on and she said oh you know this is you this is an important thing and this Morlocks isn't anywhere else is right here in Plainfield. And everybody said oh what the heck yes go away. Pretty soon we had people wearing t shirts as fields Malos. Oh that's the moniker of is that you know some things like that but on big stuff yeah. Well I think he just mentioned we had one a few years back about extending health care coverage to partners of the same sex. And there were a lot of people and they lined up and then gaja. I don't even know what his name was he took the microphone and he just said I am a gay man. I would never think of discriminating against any of your children. Oh boy. And that was it. They voted it right through. Why is it so powerful.
[00:54:38] Very interesting reminds me too that when you talk about the mollusk Chris told us earlier there's no small issues even if it's a small town. So Chris Grant could see you want to jump into times in people's minds have been swayed changed. Yeah I think he's exactly right. The amount of money in play has nothing to do with how important people think the issue is. It could be fifty dollars. Correct. We had an issue three years ago two years ago maybe we have a new agency in town that provides rides to senior citizens who can't get to doctor's appointments and the town makes a small contribution every year in recognition of how important that service is to the community. While the council decided they wanted to cut that contribution that issue alone generated more than an hour of discussion for twenty five hundred dollars. And what changed their minds was an elderly lady who uses the services. I need this service. This is why it's important to me and she just laid it out from the heart and they added all that money back into the budget and we move forward with it. OK now that I live in a city I can't participate. It's okay guys last quick question I'll throw this to you Steve. John says sorry coming late to the conversation. Why is Tom meeting held in March. Why not in fair weather like April 13th. Awesome question John especially given what we've seen in recent years Steve reflec I think historically the sassing of property in towns occurred on the 1st of April we still have still does. That's the cutoff.
[00:56:07] That's when all property is assessed for tax purposes and the desire was to get the town squared away before we had to set the tax rate. All right. There you have it John. Thanks everybody for being here. This is the exchange on NHPR.