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Town Meeting
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Moderator Jon Gailmor On Keeping Order At Town Meeting

People sit in rows in a room.
Toby Talbot
Associated Press
Town Clerk Sharon Draper, right, and Town Moderator Jon Gailmor preside over town meeting on March 5, 2013 in Elmore.

The first Tuesday in March is a notable one in Vermont. It’s Town Meeting Day, which has different meanings depending on the town you live in. Some places have already held meetings. In others, meetings are informational and voting is by Australian--or secret--ballot.

But regardless of when the meeting is there is one common thread...they all have a moderator who’s charged with running the meeting and essentially, keeping the peace.

Jon Gailmor will be overseeing the meeting in his town of Elmore, and he spoke with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb to share a bit of what it’s like to wield the gavel.

“It’s the ultimate for me. Ever since I’ve lived in Elmore, which is since 1980, I have loved Town Meeting Day and have looked forward to it,” Gailmor said.

He became moderator 6 or 7 years ago, but says he doesn’t keep track.

“It was perfect. I loved going there and sitting, and being a part of it and spouting off, rendering opinions. Then when I got to run it, it was great for me. Being a performer, it is quite a performance actually. I try to keep it light, I try to keep it civil, which isn’t very difficult in Elmore because we’re a civilized lot.”

Bob West was the longtime moderator for Elmore, and when he was planning to step down, he groomed Gailmor for the position. “He thought I’d make a good one because I like being in front of people. The vote happened and I don’t even know if I was opposed.”

The gavel that Gailmor uses is one he happened to have already. It’s a gift from his college glee club.

“They gave me a gavel inscribed 'gavel' the year of my presidency, and that’s the one I use,” Gailmor said. “I’ve seen people use hammers, clubs, their fist, it doesn’t’ve just got to make a lot of noise.”

As far as preparation goes, Gailmor makes it a point to attend a moderator tune up session held every year by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. But as far as memorizing every point of Robert’s Rules of Order, that varies.

“It depends on the moderator, some people just really run a tight ship and go religiously by Robert’s Rules of Order. I do that pretty well, pretty thoroughly, but I think it’s important to be able to bend a little bit. Nobody is really looking at you or watching, no buzzer is going to go off if you violate a rule here or there. A lot of it is common sense.”

Gailmor said the one rule he adheres to religiously is that a person can only speak twice on an issue. If they want to speak a third time, they have to get a vote from the gallery.

“I’ve gotten into trouble. People have disliked me intensely for cutting them off after two opinions,” he said.

“It gets exciting. This year, it’s going to be the school budget because it’s gone way up. It’s going to be a controversial issue. People get excited, people get heated, it affects people’s wallets, but I emphasize in my meetings that it doesn’t do anyone any good to get personal, or get angry at one another to defame anyone or to demean anyone. That’s not why we’re here, we’re here to solve problems, and hear or voices and be heard and be counted. I think everyone understands that,” Gailmor said.

He opens the meeting with a civil invocation to set a tone of civility.

Gailmor is a singer/songwriter and he wrote a song about town meeting. People sometimes ask him to sing it at Town Meeting, but he refuses.

“It’s not about me, it’s about them, and my job is more as a catalyst, I don’t contribute to the meeting other than to orchestra it. I’m a conductor, not a player. I like that. It’s a different role for me. And it’s good for me to listen. I just hope it works,” he said.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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