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Vermont Town Meeting Day liveblog 2024: Get all the latest updates here

Published March 4, 2024 at 9:23 AM EST

Here's what you need to know:

  • Burlington elected Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, who will be its first woman mayor and first openly LGBTQ+ mayor.
  • Vermonters gave Nikki Haley her only state victory in the Republican presidential primary contest, just before she announced she would suspend her campaign. President Joe Biden locked in the state's Democratic primary.
  • Voters rejected school budgets in communities including Mount Abraham Unified School District, South Burlington, Milton and Montpelier, and rejected construction bonds for a Woodstock school and a Richmond town building.
  • Montpelier voted to support "just cause" eviction protections, which would still need to be approved by the Legislature and governor, and re-elected its mayor.

Vermont sees weaker voter turnout, more Republican ballots than in recent years

Posted March 6, 2024 at 3:19 PM EST

More Vermonters voted in the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday than in any election in at least 20 years.

Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas said overall turnout on Tuesday was on the weak side compared to the last two presidential primaries, when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders was on the ballot.

A smiling woman sits at a desk with two computer monitors in front of her.
Pete Hirshfeld
Vermont Public
Vermont Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas in her office on Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Interest in the Republican presidential primary, however, was the highest it’s been since at least 2004. And the number of Vermonters who pulled a Republican ballot on Town Meeting Day was nearly double what it was in 2020.

“And so to me that is a confirmation of what we’ve known about Vermont for a long time, which is that Vermonters vote for the person, not the party,” Copeland Hanzas said.

Unofficial results from Tuesday — the final count won’t become official until the heads of Vermont’s three major parties certify the vote next week — show that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley defeated former President Donald Trump by 4 percentage points.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont becomes Nikki Haley's first state Republican presidential primary victory

Haley doesn’t appear to have hit the 50% threshold needed to win all of Vermont’s 17 Republican delegates. Vermont was the lone state to deliver a primary victory for Haley, who announced early Wednesday morning that she was suspending her campaign.

Twenty-eight percent of registered Vermont voters cast ballots on Town Meeting Day, compared to 40% in 2020 and 42% in 2016.

The electorate combined to vote down about a third of all school budget proposals in the state. Copeland Hanzas said the unusually high number of budget failures likely reflects unease among voters.

“The number of school budgets that didn’t pass yesterday really seems to be an indicator that Vermonters are worried about rising property taxes,” she said. “I think it really does press the question of, ‘Should we be having a broader conversation about how we fund schools in Vermont? Is the property tax the fairest way to assess someone’s ability to pay?’ Those are questions that have been batted around for years in the Legislature, and maybe this is going to be the moment where we finally have to dive into some of those big questions.”


Cavendish and Killington approve cannabis retailers, but Ryegate and Highgate decline

Posted March 6, 2024 at 1:19 PM EST

Several towns asked Vermonters to authorize cannabis retailers Tuesday during annual town meetings.

In Cavendish, voters narrowly approved retailers 182 in support and 168 against through an Australian ballot vote, according to unofficial numbers. Killington voters also approved their cannabis retailers proposal.

However, not all towns were on board. Ryegate did not approve a proposal to allow retailers in town, despite support from some residents.

People sit in rows in wooden chairs.
Owen Carpenter-Zehe
Community News Service
In floor vote, Ryegate voters decided against allowing retail cannabis in the town on Tuesday, March 5.

Paula Doherty recently became a full-time Ryegate resident, and showed support for the failed proposal.

"It's everywhere now, so if Vermont stands to make money on it, I think it should go forward," Doherty said.

A cannabis retailer proposal also failed in Highgate.

This story was produced in collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.


Nearly a third of school budgets fail

Posted March 6, 2024 at 12:52 PM EST
People stand in a line looking away from the camera
Kennedy Connors
Community News Service
Nearly 150 people voted in Georgia's town meeting on whether to pay taxes annually or quarterly, as well as the town budget.

A little over 30% of all school budgets were rejected on Tuesday, according to unofficial results compiled by the Vermont Superintendents and School Boards' associations.

Twenty-nine budgets failed out of 93. That's a stunning number of defeats in a state where voters typically approve school budgets by large margins.

For comparison, over the last decade, the worst year for school budgets was in 2014, when 14% of budgets failed on Town Meeting Day.

Proposed preK-12 spending statewide increased by well over $200 million this year, and Vermonters at the ballot box wrestled with whether they could bear the double-digit property tax increases necessary to support their local schools.

Find the full list of defeated budgets here.


Middlesex talks mud season road maintenance, mitigation at town meeting

Posted March 6, 2024 at 12:31 PM EST

Middlesex voters gathered in person Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic for their town meeting.

"It's been three years — we're catching up a little here, family!" said moderator Susan Clark.

And on this rainy March evening, a number of residents had the same thing on their minds: mud season.

Rows of people in folding chairs face four people sitting at a table. One of them speaks into a microphone.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Middlesex Select Board members Vic Dwire, Liz Scharf and Randy Drury oversee town meeting.

According to Middlesex Road Foreman Eric Metivier, the town has about 50 miles of road, and all but seven of those miles are dirt. And pretty much all of them get muddy in springtime.

Resident Dave Shepard wondered whether the construction budget for roads included funds solely for mud season repairs.

"Or is it to fund the kind of work we did years ago where we were redoing sections of roads, so they hopefully wouldn't be so bad during mud season?" Shepard said.

Select board members said the town doesn't currently have the funds to resurface roads for future mud mitigation — maintaining them alone last year cost about $70,000.

Liz Scharf, select board vice chair, did say the town will be receiving federal funds for its roads after the flooding damage this past year.

"The roads are being fixed through FEMA funding," Scharf said.

Paul Cerminara, the former road foreman, told the select board that he's been hearing a lot of chatter about mud season in places like Front Porch Forum, and to address "habitual offending places."

"I think a lot of folks would like to know if we do have plans eventually to get on that path," Cerminara said. "I recognize this past year was definitely a big hit to us. But I think everybody, even folks who aren't here, would love to know more about that."

Select board member and Road Commissioner Vic Dwire said the main issue is that the road crew already was at full capacity with maintenance work.

"So if we could hire some more help, I think we would go and maybe work with the rest of the select board on prioritizing spots that could use that reconstruction," Dwire said.

More form Vermont Public: Middlesex is asking residents to fund a more accessible polling place this Town Meeting Day

Middlesex residents worked their way through their 20-article warning Tuesday evening over the course of two and a half hours. All but one item passed, including the elimination of the long-vacant town constable position, the budget and a $65,000 design phase to renovate the town hall.

And the article voted down? Voters said no to stopping the mailing of the town report.


Richmond voters reject $9.8M renovation to town center building

Posted March 6, 2024 at 10:31 AM EST

Richmond voters did not approve renovations to the Town Center building that would have amounted to more than $9 million Tuesday.

A man with a mustache and knitted sweater points to a board showing a map of what the Town Center will look like once renovations are complete.
Corey Dockser
Vermont Public
Selectboard member Jeff Forward heads the town's Town Center and Library Buildings committee.

The proposal was to address health and safety concerns like "deteriorating windows ... and the absence of a sprinkler system." It also would have brought the Town Center building into compliance with flood-related zoning regulation.

According to results shared by the town of Richmond, the vote was 772 against the bond and 666 in favor.


Voters reject $99M bond for Woodstock Union school

Posted March 6, 2024 at 10:26 AM EST
A red brick building with "Woodstock Union High School and Middle School" on the front. The sky is blue and there is snow on the ground.
Lola Duffort
Vermont Public
The seven member towns of the Mountain Views School District will decide this Town Meeting Day whether to approve a $99 million bond to replace their union middle and high school.

The largest school construction bond on this year's Town Meeting Day went down to defeat as voters in Barnard, Bridgewater, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Reading and Woodstock rejected financing for a new middle and high school.

According to unofficial results, 1,570 ballots were cast in favor of the bond and 1,910 were opposed.

The timing of Woodstock’s bond vote was difficult. Statewide, property taxes are forecast to increase close to 20% this year because of large jumps in education spending. The Woodstock Union High and Middle School Bond was projected to increase a non-income sensitized resident’s bill by 16% at its peak.

Nikki Haley is expected to suspend presidential campaign Wednesday

Posted March 6, 2024 at 7:33 AM EST

Nikki Haley won Vermont's Republican presidential primary Tuesday.

The former South Carolina governor bested former President Donald Trump by four points, according to the Associated Press.

A woman holds a microphone and gestures while speaking in front of a line of flags
Chuck Burton
Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, Monday, March 4.

Still, NPR reports Haley is expected to suspend her campaign Wednesday after poor showings in other states during Super Tuesday.

Vermont was the only state she won.

Haley's campaign sent an email Wednesday morning inviting press to attend remarks at 10 a.m. in Charleston, South Carolina.

Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, pledged to remain in the race through Super Tuesday despite early primary losses to Trump — including in her home state of South Carolina last month.


Voters say 'yes' to Burlington's school budget, while South Burlington and Montpelier fail

Posted March 6, 2024 at 7:28 AM EST

Burlington voters approved the school district's proposed $128 million budget for the upcoming school year Tuesday.

Voters passed the budget by a wide margin, according to the Burlington School District.

This is the 10th consecutive year that Burlingtonians have voted to pass the school budget on Town Meeting Day.

In a year where school budgets and spiking property taxes dominated town meeting discussions, other districts were not so fortunate.

A red brick building displays lettering that reads "South Burlington High School - building a proud tradition."
Zoe McDonald
Vermont Public
South Burlington voters did not approve the city's school budget proposal Tuesday. Milton and Montpelier budgets were also rejected.

South Burlington and Milton residents shot down their school budget proposals, according to the Burlington Free Press.

Montpelier voters also rejected their school budget, with over 55% of votes cast against the $32 million proposal, according to unofficial results from the city clerk.

The school budget for the Mount Abraham Unified School District also was defeated.


Voters want to keep a small school open in Greensboro

Posted March 5, 2024 at 10:52 PM EST
Two kids' jackets hang on pegs on a wooden wall. A paper fish on the wall has the words "ready to learn"
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Lakeview Elementary School in Greensboro is the smallest school in the Mountain View Union Elementary School District.

Voters in four Northeast Kingdom towns are not recommending that their school board close Lakeview Elementary School — a 27-student school in Greensboro near Caspian Lake.

According to the Mountain View Elementary School District, Lakeview has struggled with enrollment and staffing this school year. Last December, a group of voters petitioned to close the school entirely and send students to the schools in Hardwick and Woodbury.

Instead, the question was put on the ballot, as a non-binding, advisory vote — meaning, as a recommendation to the Mountain View school board. A majority of voters from all four towns — Greensboro, Hardwick, Woodbury and Stannard — voted “no” to recommending a closure, 556 “no” votes to 458 “yes” votes.

Since it is non-binding, the school board does not have to follow the results.

Lakeview is one of three campuses in the Mountain View Union Elementary School District, which consolidated schools in the four Northeast Kingdom towns under Act 46 in 2018. The Lakeview campus is the smallest school — the Hardwick Elementary School has more than 220 kids, while Woodbury Elementary has around 50.

But Greensboro parent Steve Perkins, who has a kindergartner at Lakeview, said Tuesday afternoon that enrollment at small schools is always fluctuating.

“Enrollment goes up and down, up and down,” he said. “And we have a lot of folks retired in the community that are going to be moving on, and those homes are going to be available. So, the hope is that you can bring families in when those homes become available. And it’s hard to attract families if you don’t have an elementary school in your town.”

If the school does close, students will go to school in Hardwick or Woodbury.

A gray building with a sign that says Lakeview Elementary School
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Voters signaled support for keeping Lakeview Elementary School open.

Amy Crank lives in Hardwick and sends her daughters to school in Woodbury. She said fiscally, a closure would make sense.

“But we understand that there’s also a lot of people that are affected by this in a more personal way,” she said. “The school’s the lifeline of your community. It’s a tough decision, and I’m glad that this is a way for us to voice our opinion, but not actually make the decision right now.”

According to an FAQ on the district’s site, there are “too many variables” to predict savings for any individual school closures. Lakeview has an almost $1.2 million budget.

Voters in Cabot today decided to keep their small high school open, which just under 40 students attend.


Nikki Haley wins Vermont GOP primary

Posted March 5, 2024 at 10:45 PM EST


Nikki Haley has won Vermont's Republican presidential primary, according to the Associated Press.

With 90% of the vote tallied Tuesday night, Haley held a 50% to 45.7% lead over Trump.

The full story: Vermont voters share their presidential primary choices

Though Vermont’s 17 primary delegates will do little to help Haley eat into Trump’s commanding lead in the race for the Republican nomination, her showing here represents a symbolic victory for Vermonters such as Tom Anastasio.

A woman holds a microphone and speaks in front of a darkened background
Tony Gutierrez
Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, Monday, March 4, 2024.

Anastasio is a Hyde Park resident who customarily votes in Democratic primaries. The self-described independent said he was eager to pull a Republican ballot Tuesday so that he could cast a vote for Haley.

“I think that was a very important thing to do, to save the conservative part of the nation from the horror that the Republican Party has become,” he said.

Anastasio doesn’t necessarily want to see the former ambassador to the United Nations ascend to the presidency. He does want her to defeat the main candidate she faces in the Republican primary.

“And I hope that by not voting for Trump on the Republican ballot, that we can help bring the Republican Party back to its senses,” he said.

A man opens a door to a white building. A sign reads "Ballot vote in the basement."
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Voters in Londonderry gathered on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 for town meeting and presidential primary voting.

Vermont has open primaries, meaning any voter can select either a Democratic or Republican ballot.

Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican and a longtime critic of Trump, urged voters to take a Republican ballot and vote for Haley.

"If you want to help stop Donald Trump, please, please show up on Tuesday," Scott said at a Haley rally in South Burlington on Sunday.

Matt Dickinson, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, said on Sunday that several factors in Vermont were working in Haley's favor — including the open primary, the lack of a competitive race on the Democratic side, and a comparatively high percentage of voters who identify as independent.


Rutland voters decide to keep fluoride in city water

Posted March 5, 2024 at 10:40 PM EST

Voters at Town Meeting Day in Rutland decided to keep fluoride in their municipal water.

According to unofficial results from the city, 1,334 voted to ban fluoride and 2,031 voted against the change.

This means Rutland’s public works commissioner will continue to set the water fluoridation policy for the city.

Rutland began fluoridating its water in 1983. According to the CDC, fluoride in drinking water has been shown to be a cost-effective way to combat tooth decay in communities.

Despite support for fluoridation from the CDC and the U.S. Surgeon General, critics say fluoride's negative impacts are being ignored.

In 2016, the last time it was on the ballot in Rutland, voters strongly favored keeping fluoride in.


Burlington elects Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak as its first woman mayor

Posted March 5, 2024 at 9:54 PM EST
A woman is in conversation with another person.
Zoe McDonald
Vermont Public
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak spoke to voters on Tuesday, March 5. She was announced the winner of the Burlington mayoral race that evening.

For the first time in its history, Vermont’s largest city elected a woman mayor. Progressive candidate Emma Mulvaney-Stanak bested longtime city councilor and Democrat Joan Shannon to become Burlington’s next leader.

"We not only have a woman mayor after 159 years, we have the first openly LGBTQ+ mayor," Mulvaney-Stanak said as she celebrated with her supporters Tuesday night.

Read the full story: Emma Mulvaney-Stanak elected mayor of Burlington

Mulvaney-Stanak runs a social change consulting business and is a member of the Vermont House of Representatives. She’s also previously served on the Burlington City Council.

The mayoral race was dominated by one issue: public safety. In recent years there’s been a surge in homelessness, more visible drug use, and an uptick in some types of crime, like vehicle break-ins and gunfire incidents.

Mulvaney-Stanak’s approach on public safety focused on addressing broader systemic issues – like poverty, addiction, and homelessness. She supports bolstering the city’s police force, but she doesn’t think adding officers alone will solve Burlington’s problems.

Speaking Tuesday night, Shannon asked her supporters to support Mulvaney-Stanak.

“Our commitment is not just to the campaign, but to moving Burlington forward, so let’s offer our ‘all hands on deck’ to Emma,” Shannon said, referencing her campaign slogan.


Montpelier voters approve ‘just cause’ eviction protections

Posted March 5, 2024 at 9:29 PM EST

This story, by Report for America corps member Carly Berlin, was produced through a partnership between VTDigger and Vermont Public.

Montpelier has become the latest Vermont municipality to approve “just cause” eviction protections for renters this Town Meeting Day.

The measure passed by 16%, or about 400 votes, according to results reported Tuesday evening by City Clerk John Odum.

But the measure will need to make it past the Legislature and the governor before it can go into effect — and so far, other local “just cause” charter change votes have gotten stonewalled.

“Hopefully, this will send a strong message to lawmakers in the Statehouse that ‘just cause’ eviction is a serious policy that has a lot of support from Vermonters across the state — including outside of Chittenden County,” said Joe Moore, a Montpelier resident who helped gather signatures to get the charter change measure on Tuesday’s ballot.

The new measure clearly delineates under what circumstances a landlord can evict a tenant.

In Vermont, landlords can generally decline to renew a tenant’s lease for any reason. “Just cause” protections prohibit these evictions for “no cause” — but still allow a landlord to evict a tenant because they haven’t paid rent, or they’ve broken state landlord-tenant law or the provisions of their lease.

The exterior of a brick apartment building with a sign that says "The Montpelier Apartments"
Carly Berlin
Vermont Public and VTDigger
An apartment building in downtown Montpelier on Feb. 15, 2024.

The language approved by Montpelier voters mirrors measures passed by Burlington and Winooski voters in recent years. It would effectively require property owners to give current tenants the right of first refusal for the unit when the lease ends. Landlords and tenants would still be able to renegotiate, but with more guardrails. For instance, a landlord would be barred from enacting “unreasonable rent increases” which can amount to “de facto evictions.”

Many small-scale landlords would be exempt altogether. Property owners who live onsite at a duplex or triplex or who rent out an accessory dwelling unit on their property could continue to evict tenants as they do today.

Given the state’s razor-thin rental vacancy rates and rising rents, proponents of such protections argue that they’re a necessary tool to give tenants greater leverage in the housing market — and insulate them from profit-driven or retaliatory evictions.

But so far, state leaders have blocked the local eviction measures passed in other cities and towns from becoming law.

Local charter changes in Vermont must get the greenlight from legislators and the governor before being enacted, and thus far, no “just cause” measure has cleared both hurdles.

Burlington residents approved a “just cause” charter change in 2021, and the next year, lawmakers gave it their rubber stamp. But Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the measure, arguing at the time that it would discourage property owners from renting out units to “vulnerable prospective tenants,” instead encouraging them to give preference to renters with better credit scores and no criminal history on their records. Rather than pass the tenant protections, Scott emphasized the need to promote more housing development. Lawmakers fell one vote short of overriding his veto.

In 2023, Burlington representatives again pushed for the charter change, and voter-approved “just cause” measures from Winooski and Essex headed to the Statehouse, too. But last year, none advanced. And this session, the prospect of passing the local charter changes appears grim.

Last month, Rep. Mike McCarthy, D-St. Albans City, who chairs the House Committee on Government Operations and Military Affairs — which has control over whether local charter changes move forward — told VTDigger/Vermont Public that the committee would not advance the measures this year.

(McCarthy noted that the committee removed the Essex “just cause” provision — which included broader language than the Burlington, Winooski and Montpelier measures — from a larger charter change bill for the town, which has advanced).

McCarthy offered a few reasons why now is not the time to pass these “just cause” measures town by town. The bills are likely to meet yet another veto from Scott, and McCarthy does not think they would garner enough votes in both chambers for an override. He also argued that such tenant protections should be married with policies that streamline and expedite the eviction process more generally by bolstering court staffing, thus clearing the path for landlords to remove tenants who are causing safety concerns.

The gold dome of the Montpelier statehouse in the middle of the day.
Sophie Stephens
Vermont Public
The Statehouse in Montpelier.

Instead of “just cause” protections, McCarthy wants to work on funding eviction prevention programs — and focusing on regulatory reform to bring more housing online.

“I don’t think that, in this current environment, where there are a lot of changes going on in housing, that this is the policy lever that we should push,” he said.

That hesitance under the golden dome means Montpelier’s newly approved charter change is likely to hit a major roadblock. But Moore hopes lawmakers will shift their footing after the Montpelier victory.

“We look forward to seeing the charter change move in the Legislature as soon as possible,” he said.

As local charter changes stall, some lawmakers are considering a temporary pause on “no cause” evictions statewide until July 2025.


Cabot votes — again — to keep its tiny high school open

Posted March 5, 2024 at 9:00 PM EST
A building with white painted wooden siding and a sign that says "Cabot School" on a rainy day.
Lola Duffort
Vermont Public
The pre-K-12 Cabot School pictured on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Voters in Cabot have considered four different ballot items since 2013 that would have closed the school.

For the fourth time since 2013 — and by a wide margin — Cabot residents have voted to keep their tiny high school open.

The Cabot School is one of only a handful remaining standalone pre-K-12 schools in Vermont. Residents petitioned for Article 5, which would have shuttered grades 9 through 12 and instead offered families public and private school choice. Enrollment is just shy of 40 students at the high school, and organizers of the effort argued that students would be better served in larger schools with more academic and extracurricular offerings.

But the school board opposed the move, arguing that tuitioning students out to the school of their choice would cost more than operating the school — and send spiking taxes up even higher.

“I think our town is really tired of having this come up every few years. I've heard that from many, many of our citizens.”
Ellen Cairns, Cabot school board chair

Residents ultimately sided with the school board: 367 voted against closure, while 239 voted for it, according to preliminary results reported Tuesday evening by Ellen Cairns, school board chair. And by a slightly smaller margin, voters also endorsed the district’s $4.5 million budget, 335 to 263.

Doug Cooke, age 45, voted to keep the school open on Tuesday. While he acknowledged that “the cost is quite high,” he argued it was worth it.

“I feel that the school is necessary for our community,” he said.

Susan Alexander said the issue was top of mind when she came out to vote. The 65-year-old said her kids had a positive experience in the town's school system, and that she’d valued being able to send her children to school in the town they lived in. And she was concerned that if the high school shuttered, eventually so too would the elementary and middle grades.

“I’d also worry about the people who are going to lose their job,” she said. “If you’re voting to close the high school right now, you’re also voting to fire all the high school teachers.”

Richard Lacelle, 47, who homeschools his children, said he voted to close the school. He said he favors a system where all students get to pick where they’d like to go and schools “compete and deliver a quality product.”

Cabot’s size didn’t concern him much, he said, so much as what he perceives as an ideological bent within the larger school system.

“They’re turning out more social justice warriors than actually focusing on education,” he said.

Cabot considered ballot items in 2013, 2017, and 2019 that would have closed the high school. And while each time the community ultimately voted to keep the school open, Cairns said the perennial question is still wearing everybody down.

“I think our town is really tired of having this come up every few years,” she said in an interview before the vote. “I've heard that from many, many of our citizens.”

Even if the closure vote fails, she said, the school board doesn’t plan to “rest on our laurels and assume that everything will be fine for the foreseeable future.” It plans to have wide-ranging community conversations about the future of Cabot’s education, she said, which could even include exploring a regional high school with nearby towns.

Cabot is not the only community contemplating closing a school this Town Meeting week.

Windham is voting Saturday on a petitioned ballot item that would shutter the southern Vermont town’s K-6 school and offer parents public school choice in exchange. And the towns of Greensboro, Hardwick, Woodbury and Stannard — which are all part of the same district — took a nonbinding vote Tuesday on whether to close Lakeview Elementary in Greensboro.


McCullough wins Montpelier mayor's race

Posted March 5, 2024 at 8:54 PM EST
A man wearing gloves, a coat and a bucket hat holds a green sign, and stands in the middle of two other people in coats facing him.
Bob Kinzel
Vermont Public
Montpelier mayoral candidate Jack McCullough holds a campaign sign on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. McCullough is on this year's Town Meeting Day ballot for mayor, along with challenger Dan Jones.

Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough won re-election Tuesday, according to unofficial results.

McCullough garnered 1,441 votes, more than the combined total of opponents Dan Jones (994) and Carlton Langston Anderson (182).


Brookfield recognizes road crew with bonuses for flood recovery work

Posted March 5, 2024 at 8:50 PM EST
Brookfield recognizes road crew with bonuses for flood recovery work

Residents of Brookfield voted to honor their local road crew for their work repairing infrastructure following the July 2023 flooding. Voters authorized bonuses of $500 each to the three crew members, "Tim, Richie and Rob."

The crew members worked around the clock to fix the roads, said Select Board Chair John Benson. "They did not go home. They did not sleep. And they worked continuously through the summer trying to put the roads back together."

Video by Mike Dunn/Vermont Public.


Winooski approves bridge bond

Posted March 5, 2024 at 8:09 PM EST

Winooski voters have approved a $4.6 million bond toward the replacement of the Burlington-Winooski bridge.

The vote was 1,066 to 253, according to unofficial results.

The bridge over the Winooski River was built in 1928 and is heavily used by vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians going between the two cities. Burlington and Winooski own the bridge together, and officials in both have approved a new design.

"We're looking at the bridge being covered 80% by federal funds, 10% by state funds, and then the municipalities Burlington and Winooski would have to cover the remaining 10%," Winooski Public Works Director Jon Rauscher said on Monday's Vermont Edition before the vote.

Construction would start around 2027, Rauscher said.

from the field
'If they don't sue you, then you've done it right'

After 43 years, Cambridge town moderator Jerry Cole has some advice

Posted March 5, 2024 at 7:50 PM EST
Man in a striped blue and white shirt stands behind a podium with his arms out.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Jerry Cole retired as town moderator in Cambridge after 43 years. Some of his advice: "We come into this as neighbors, and we're going to leave as neighbors. And so that's the important part."

After more than four decades of making sure Cambridge’s town meeting ran smoothly, long-time town moderator Jerry Cole retired Tuesday. Vermont Public Reporter Abagael Giles caught him at town meeting and spoke with him about what it takes to do the job, and Cambridge’s proposed vote to do away with in-person meetings, which ultimately did not pass.

This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Jerry Cole: All right, my name is Jerry Cole, and I've been town moderator for 43 years here in Cambridge. When I first took over the job, I had no idea how to do it. It seems almost impossible that I've been here that long. And a lot has changed. And for the better here in town, and I've learned a lot.

Abagael Giles: I'm curious, what does it take to be moderator? What are some of the things that you've learned over the years of doing this job?

Jerry Cole on 43 years of being a town moderator
Jerry Cole on 43 years of being a town moderator

Jerry Cole: One does have to be very patient, and be very open, and let the people have their say, so that none would go away and say, "Well, you shut me off," or "I didn't have a chance," or whatever. It was always to make sure of that. And the other thing is to never, never, never give them an answer to something, even if you know it. Find it out there somewhere and somewhere else and whatever, so that you can stay very, let's say indifferent, and not divided between whatever. So always find someone else to have the thing. That's, that's what I tell them. And if they don't sue you, then you've done it right.

Abagael Giles: What have you seen change in the years that you've been moderating town meeting? And what have you seen stay the same?

Jerry Cole: Well, I've seen the population change. They're a lot grayer, OK? When we started, we used to start at 10 a.m., and Cambridge has changed so a lot of the small farms and whatever are no longer in existence, so there's no reason to start later to make sure they got their chores done. And so we moved it to 9 a.m., and the population seems older. And as the amount of farms went down, the amount of people that came here and use Cambridge as a bedroom — in other words to work in Chittenden County.

I hope this article of changing it from a Australian ballot from a regular town meeting does not pass, because that will be the death of democracy as far as I'm concerned. I mean, if you saw my hat, I'm a Vietnam veteran. And I fought for the ability to come to a place like this, express my opinion, and to actually legislate a little bit. ... And to come with an open mind so that you can debate an issue and debate it and come to a consensus from everybody's point of view.

Abagael Giles: What's the hardest part of the job?

Jerry Cole: I think the hardest part of the job is not being able to express your opinion on things. Because if you want to express your opinion, you have to leave the podium, come down and speak to it, and you cannot go back to the podium until that article is discussed. And now I have a chance to, as you can see at this meeting, is to give my opinion.

Abagael Giles: What's the best part of being moderator? What's the best part of the job?

Jerry Cole: The best part is when people come and say "thank you" for the job done. And that they feel that, you know, I've given everybody a voice, so that they can express it, and that they appreciate that fact.

And a lot of times, I would lighten things up a little bit. I have a sense of humor. And that's, that's important. Because like I said, we come here as neighbors, and we're going to leave as neighbors. And so that's, that's the important part. And that's what really is the best part of it, when someone says, "Thank you for — thank you for the job well done." What more can you ask for?

Flood recovery top of mind in hard-hit towns

Posted March 5, 2024 at 7:39 PM EST
Chip Martin, Clarissa Gottshall-French and April Tuck with Lamoille Area Recovery Network give out flood resources at the Cambridge town meeting.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Chip Martin, Clarissa Gottshall-French and April Tuck with Lamoille Area Recovery Network give out flood resources at the Cambridge town meeting.

Flooding was a big topic of discussion at town meetings across Vermont.

In Cambridge, which was hit hard by the July disaster, the first thing voters saw walking into the Cambridge Elementary School Gym Tuesday was a table full of flyers about flood relief.

There were brochures about buyouts and how to get help replacing furniture, courtesy of Lamoille Area Recovery Network (LARN), a grassroots mutual aid group.

Clarissa Gottshall-French is with the United Way of Lamoille County and was there representing LARN.

She says they are working with at least 40 families in Lamoille County who still have unmet needs after the July floods.

"It could be something as simple as still replacing furniture, but we have folks with a lot of higher level needs," she said "And most of it revolves around funding and housing."

She says as many as eight families in Cambridge are exploring buyouts after the floods. Housing in the community is tight and there is concern about where else those people will live.

In Johnson, Jackie Stanton said the first Town Meeting Day since the summer floods was bittersweet. She said many of her neighbors in town aren’t there anymore because they lost their homes.

"They’re scattered — I can think of five or six families. It’s a pretty devastating thing," Stanton said. "We have our library displaced. We still don’t have our market. We just barely got our post office. Our town hall is still not up and running. So we are coming back from something big on the heels of COVID and everything else."

More from Vermont Edition: 'Strengthen what we have': Vermont planners share how flood rebuilding conversations are going

Jeff Coslett, select board chair in Cambridge, told voters the community faces big decisions about the future.

Coslett says with some 29 units already in the buyout process and far fewer homes for sale, flooding is making the community's housing shortage worse.

"When you look at where possible growth and housing could occur, the current Cambridge Town Plan calls for growth to be concentrated as much as possible in the village cores," Coslett told voters Tuesday. "Unfortunately, if you look at the village core that is Jeffersonville or Cambridge Village, there is very little, if any, available land that is not already in a flood prone area."

Coslett says the town plan is due to be updated in 2026, and the process is kicking off this year. He urged community members to get involved, and said considering zoning bylaws and where the town wants to see new development are all on the table.

from the field

Bingo enlivens Hardwick's meeting

Posted March 5, 2024 at 6:20 PM EST

A raised hand on Town Meeting Day could indicate a vote or the introduction of an amendment. At Hardwick’s town meeting on Tuesday, Meredith Holch’s outstretched arm signaled something else entirely:

“I have a bingo card, and there's one square that I need to get filled,” she said. “So, I’m going to ask the woman select board member sitting right next to [the town manager] to please state your name.”

The select board member obliged.

“Bingo!” Holch yelled.

A pair of hands holds cards labeled "town meeting bingo"
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Diana Clarke holds bingo cards at Hardwick's town meeting March 5, 2024.

It was the second year of Town Meeting Day bingo in Hardwick, courtesy of the Civic Standard — a self-described “social experiment” in community and culture that brings people in Hardwick together over theater, trivia and group meals, to name just a few of its many iterations.

Rose Friedman, one of the Civic’s organizers, said the organization got a solid endorsement for its bingo game last year when the town moderator played from the podium.

“It felt like that gave us full permission to move forward and build on that,” Friedman said.

A woman stands next to a table with refreshments and bingo cards.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Rose Friedman of the nonprofit Civic Standard runs Town Meeting Day bingo in Hardwick.

This year, the Civic had a table outside the gymnasium-turned-auditorium with egg salad sandwiches and coffee, muffins and flyers.

Friedman said a goal is to “normalize civic engagement” as a regular part of life.

“Community is talked about as this big, unwieldy, philosophical concept,” she said. “But it’s like walking, breathing, drinking water. It’s something you do without thinking about it.’”

Part of that is making it more fun.

A sampling of bingo squares: “‘Dump truck.’ ‘Mold,’” read Diana Clarke from her bingo card before Tuesday’s meeting. “Can we cross off ‘Conversation’? because I feel like that’s happening right now.”

Today’s town meeting was Clarke’s first. She said she usually can’t go because of work. But she and her friends sitting near the back of the are Civic regulars. They've attended Civic plays and gift swaps.

People sit in rows of folding chairs in a school gymnasium
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Hardwick's town meeting on March 5, 2024.

Milo Tandy said the organization's presence at town meeting could help people pay better attention to what’s going on in Hardwick.

“The Civic, in general, is great at bringing people of diverse age groups altogether,” he said.

Take the organization's community suppers, which Friedman said can draw 40 to 50 people each week.

“I kind of feel like we’re practicing the feeling of town meeting at the Civic Standard all the time,” Friedman said. “It’s really just people practicing being in the same room with each other and talking. It’s really low stakes. It’s not the big public meeting where you have to get up and argue about the taxes.”

And at Tuesday’s meeting, argue about taxes voters did. Hardwick residents deliberated a municipal budget increase — which Select Board Chair Eric Remick said was “bigger than we’ve proposed in the ten or eleven years I’ve been on the select board.” Remick attributed the increase to rising health care costs, an addition of staff hours to deal with ongoing flood recovery, and increased costs of town equipment. The proposed new budget comes with a proposed 8.8% property tax rate increase.

During the voice vote Tuesday, voters shot down an amendment meant to lessen the tax burden on voters and ultimately approved the budget, as is.


Cambridge decides to keep its floor vote

Posted March 5, 2024 at 5:37 PM EST
Two people lean over a pile of small papers on a wooden stage. In the background, people sit in folding chairs
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Votes for select board are counted in Cambridge on Town Meeting Day, March 5, 2024.

After spirited debate, voters in the town of Cambridge decided not to change the way they vote on Town Meeting Day.

Right now, they vote for their town budget and elected officials like select board from the floor.

An effort to switch to an Australian ballot for elected officials and for the budget failed Tuesday.

Mary Fafard of Cambridge urged her fellow voters to consider neighbors who couldn't get time off of work to be at town meeting in-person.

"What happens here in our towns and our states affect us so much more than the rules and laws that are coming out on the federal level," Fafard said. "And I think it's so important that everyone, regardless of your age and your ability to come to an event like this, should be able to have a chance to vote."

She said it's hard for younger working people to come to an in-person town meeting.

But others at the meeting said floor votes are vitally important because they allow citizens to write the rules that affect them directly. And they say the debate is healthy for the community.

Newly retired Town Moderator Jerry Cole said he supports continuing to keep floor votes at town meeting. Cole said the warning offers people appropriate guardrails so the debate doesn't go too far into left field.

"But you're still able to look into it, to talk something over and to come to compromise here, rather than say, 'Up!' or 'Down!' It makes a difference," Cole said.

A ballot measure to move the vote for elected officials to Australian ballot failed by a vote of 58 to 70, with 128 people voting.

A ballot measure to move the vote for the town budget to Australian ballot failed by a vote of 47 to 87.


Richmond, Marshfield and Newfane pass Gaza cease-fire resolutions

Posted March 5, 2024 at 4:51 PM EST

Richmond voters approved a resolution today calling for an immediate, negotiated permanent cease-fire by Hamas and Israel in the ongoing conflict.

The resolution also calls for the release of all hostages and "the urgent implementation of humanitarian aid and reparations," and says the town is going on record against antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Voters approved the measure by voice vote, said Town Manager Josh Arenson.

A cease-fire resolution addressing Gaza and the West Bank was also approved in Marshfield, which held its town meeting Sunday. The moderator initially ruled that the introduction of the resolution was out of order, but was overruled, according to a summary of the meeting by Town Clerk Bobbi Brimblecombe.

Newfane voters approved their own version of a cease-fire resolution as well, according to the Brattleboro Reformer.

More from Vermont Public: 67 Vermont lawmakers sign letter calling for Gaza cease-fire

from the field

Georgia considers a switch to Australian ballot

Posted March 5, 2024 at 3:51 PM EST
People stand in a line looking away from the camera
Kennedy Connors
Community News Service
Nearly 150 people voted in Georgia's town meeting on whether to pay taxes annually or quarterly, as well as the town budget.

Georgia had its first floor vote in three years on Tuesday after pausing the tradition during the pandemic. And today’s vote could be its last as the town decides whether to move to the Australian ballot system.

“It’s a tradition that we come here and make sure that our voices be heard,” said Heather Grimm, who has been coming to Town Meeting Day since 1998. She’s a local Boy Scouts scoutmaster, and members of her troop conducted the pledge of allegiance and assisted in handing the microphone out to audience members. 

“I look forward to doing this,” Grimm said. “I hope it continues for the next 20 years.”

“I think it brings a community of people together, some people that are really passionate about this and don’t want to lose it under any circumstances,” said Carl Laroe.

However, some voters were advocating for the change.

During discussion of the budget, one voter spoke up expressing concern about making the vote during the meeting. “There’s clearly not a majority of the town here,” she said. She spoke in favor of Australian ballots as they’d allow more people, and especially younger residents, to vote.

This story was produced in collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.


Londonderry approves staffing for short-term rental regulation

Posted March 5, 2024 at 3:23 PM EST
A woman speaks in front of a microphone
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Lois Osnow speaks in favor of a short-term rental administrator at Londonderry's town meeting on March 5, 2024.

In Londonderry, voters today approved the creation of a new short-term rental administrator.

The Windham County ski town has a new registration policy for short-term rentals, and at town meeting the select board asked for approval for a new town employee to manage it.

There was some pushback, but resident Lois Osnow said Londonderry has to get a handle on the growing numbers of Airbnbs and VRBOs.

“We have to deal with what’s going on in our community with the renters," Osnow said. "It’s here, and it’s now, and we have to address it."

The town hopes to pay for the administrator with new registration fees that kick in July 1.

More from Vermont Public: Short-term rentals are on the rise in Vermont. So are debates over how to regulate them.


A greater need for the food shelf in Bethel

Posted March 5, 2024 at 3:11 PM EST
Nine cheerleaders in green outfits hold up signs and poms on a stage
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
The Wildcat Cheerleaders of Bethel Youth Sports hype up Town Meeting Day voters in the gym of White River Valley Union Middle School on March 5, 2024.

At Bethel's town meeting, voters considered their municipal budget, funds for the food shelf and library, and whether to eliminate the office of town lister.

First, though, residents and local officials received some encouragement from their very own "local democracy cheerleaders."

The Wildcat Cheerleaders of Bethel Youth Sports are made up of local 2nd-through 5th-graders. Their presence is among the town's initiatives to get people engaged with town meeting.

Middle-school-age students were also on hand to provide child care, and to run microphones to voters who wanted to speak.

Another, longer-running initiative to get voters in the door: free pie.

"A few years ago, the Town Meeting Committee decided they were going to try to get more people to come, so they figured, food brings people!" said pie coordinator Jean Burnham, laughing. Burnham was Bethel's assistant town clerk who previously served as town clerk for 48 years.

Among the pies was something called crimson pie, which resident Tim Brennan says his wife made.

"Crimson pie is a blueberry-cranberry combination," he said. "Homemade crust, and homemade whipped cream. So it's all – it's practically health food, really. Two slices, really, you need 'em!"

A young person hands a microphone to an adult man in a school gym.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Eighth grader Allon Harrington helps run the microphone to Bethel resident Adam Stearns during that town's town meeting. Allon was among the middle school students helping pass the mic around the meeting, and also providing child care.

Post-pie and cheerleading, Bethel voters did get down to business, starting with passing a nearly $3 million budget.

Among the most debated topics was an additional appropriation to the Bethel Area Food Shelf. The volunteer-run organization serves not only Bethel but Barnard, Pittsfield and Stockbridge.

"Our neighbors self-select when they come to – when they choose to use the Bethel Area Food Shelf," said Cindy Metcalf, one of the food shelf's managers. "We don't pry into their situations or ask for proof that they need the help.... We understand they wouldn't be going to the food shelf if they didn't need support, we understand it takes courage to ask for help. Our neighbors typically come to us because they have few alternatives. And we welcome each of them with dignity and respect."

Two people sit on folding chairs, one with a Bethel town report.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Among the items Bethel voters were weighing on Town Meeting Day was whether to remove an elected lister position and replace it with a professional assessor.

And Metcalf, along with fellow food shelf manager Lisa Warhol, says there's more need due to pandemic-era federal benefits ending, plus rising grocery costs and last summer's flooding.

"We anticipate needing to raise $91,500 in 2024 to support our food procurement and operating expenses," Warhol said. "This represents a nine [point] increase over our 2023 budget."

Bethel voters were asked to give a total of $30,000 to the food shelf this year — $5,000 in the town budget, then an additional $25,000 appropriation.

Some voters questioned whether this amount was too high, and whether the food shelf could ensure its services were being used by those who truly need it. But an amendment to reduce the additional appropriation to $5,000 failed.

The original $25,000 appropriation for the food shelf passed, as did the $5,000 included in the town budget.

from the field

Bethel gets cheerleaders for democracy

Posted March 4, 2024 at 2:47 PM EST
In Bethel, about 150 people showed up in the town's middle school for the first in-person voting in three years.
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
In Bethel, about 150 people showed up in the town's middle school for the first in-person voting in three years.

For years, the town of Bethel has been working toward making its town meeting more inclusive and accessible.

Rebecca Sanborn Stone, a member of the Bethel Community Engagement and Town Meeting Committee, says the group was formed about a decade ago to address building accessibility problems.

"Like having so many people who wanted to get into town hall for town meeting, that the line stretched out in the street and there was nowhere to park," Sanborn Stone says. "Our town hall, while beautiful and historic, is not the most accessible building."

Town meeting has since moved to White River Valley Unified Middle School, in the gym.

And in addition to making the meeting more physically accessible, Sanborn Stone says the committee is focused on engaging more people in local decision-making — like offering free child care, publicizing where and where people can vote more widely, and serving up free pie.

More from Vermont Public: Middlesex is asking residents to fund a more accessible polling place this Town Meeting Day

"To really put out the message that this is about celebration and community and bringing people together," she says. "This is not just a day where you show up and argue about road salt or town budget."

The Bethel Community Engagement and Town Meeting Committee has also, for the first time, brought on the Wildcat Cheerleaders of Bethel Youth Sports.

"Cheering is about supporting people who are doing great things," said Robynn Martin, the coach of the BYS Wildcat Cheerleaders, in a written statement. "We're so excited to be the world's first 'local democracy' cheerleaders and bring the Wildcat spirit to people who are voting and making Bethel better."

In the future, Sanborn Stone says town meeting could become even more accessible and inclusive through wider use of plain language.

"We've focused on really simple, clear, plain language graphics and posters to share over social media and simple texts and posts to put into Front Porch Forum and things like that," she says. "There's still a long way to go. And I would love to see our committee and our other towns really innovate with this and work on what the agendas and warnings look like, what the reports look like."

Bethel's town meeting takes place Tuesday. Pie, coffee and a community fair start at 9 a.m., and the meeting's "opening ceremony" with local democracy cheerleading begins at 9:45 a.m.

What we're watching this Town Meeting Day

Posted March 4, 2024 at 2:20 PM EST

Break out your town report booklet and your biggest casserole dish: Town Meeting Day is tomorrow!

Vermont’s cherished town meeting tradition brings people together in the same room for some old-fashioned democracy.

You’ll consider a whole host of local issues, from town road repairs to select board and mayoralcandidates. In towns that were hard-hit by last year’s floods, it’ll be a good time to take stock of recovery.

School spending this year has become somewhat of a confusing mess. With property taxes projected to rise in the double digits, some school boards delayed their votes in order to reduce spending, while others have made last-minute cuts to their proposed budgets. In communities that are going ahead with votes this week, the fate of school budgets will be closely watched. Some places will also weigh difficult decisions over costly school construction and the prospect of closing their small schools.

In other trends: More towns this year may decide to allow cannabis sales, and another handful of communities may join a long list of towns officially condemning racism and other forms of discrimination.

Tuesday is also Vermont’s presidential primary election, where you’ll have the chance to select a Republican or Democratic nominee for president. (One Republican candidate campaigned here over the weekend.) Regardless of what day your town meeting is, primary voting is Tuesday. Polls will be open until 7 p.m.

Pssst: This is a big election year, and we want your input! Tell us what you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for your vote.

Prep for Town Meeting Day with Vermont Public's guide

Posted March 4, 2024 at 9:19 AM EST

It’s almost time for Vermont’s Town Meeting Day, and Vermont Public wants to help you feel prepared and confident.

Whether you’re a new Vermonter or a seasoned local voter, town meeting can feel overwhelming — school and town reports are thick, and there are endless variations on how things are done from town to town. Take it from us: Even journalists sometimes feel our eyes start to glaze over when we’re sorting through tax rates.

We’ve put together a guide to help! Here’s everything you always wanted to know about Town Meeting Day but were too afraid to ask.

One final thing: Town Meeting Day is serious business, but also, it's fun. You can print out and take this card with you, or save it on your phone, and share your results on social media (tag Vermont Public!).