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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Henningsen: Town Meeting Advice

With a new democratic spirit sweeping the land, I thought it might be helpful to offer town moderators and selectboard members a little practical advice so New England won’t be left in the dust come Town Meeting Day. Thomas Jefferson famously called the New England town meeting the "wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government and for its preservation." But recent developments in American political culture suggest we’re falling behind. To avoid this, here are some suggestions for updating your procedures.

Remember to be vigilant for potentially thousands of unregistered voters trying to sneak in and participate illegally, skewing the outcome of major warrant articles and saddling honest citizens with unwanted expenses and regulations. Be advised to have deputies in the parking lot watching for charter buses bearing out-of-state plates. Screen participants carefully – three forms of photo ID should do it. Old guys in wool pants, checked shirts, and red suspenders should get extra scrutiny – it’s a common disguise adopted by illegals.

After the middle school chorus sings the national anthem, move to commemorate the event as a “Townwide celebration of patriotic devotion.” Names of those opposed should be recorded for future use, while you declare the motion passed by acclamation.

When calling on speakers, favor those you know support your positions. Limit time allowed to those opposed and interrupt them with questions and comments challenging their loyalty to the town.

Take every opportunity to remind the audience of the record-breaking attendance at the town’s Fourth of July chicken barbecue. If someone calls the numbers inflated, fix the challenger with a cold stare and say, “We didn’t see you there. And just what have you got against the volunteer fire department anyway?”

Remember, the Road Crew is sacred and its actions are unreviewable. Pictures of unfilled potholes were obviously photo-shopped.

When people criticize policy or expenditures, have your alternative facts ready. And always present statistics in odd numbers. Nineteen percent sounds precise. Twenty percent sounds vague, even probably fake.

In fact, this might be a good time to once again remind the audience of the record turnout at the chicken barbeque.

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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