Three neighboring Vermont towns are taking steps to decide between in-person, virtual, or hybrid annual town meeting informational gatherings.
At the Chester Selectboard meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 5, three out of five board members — Heather Chase, Leigh Dakin, and Lee Gustafson — verbalized their support of conducting the Town Meeting in the same hybrid fashion as last year.
“I think we should do it the same way we did it last year,” Gustafson said.
To the west, the Andover Selectboard voted 3-2 in a heated meeting on Monday, Jan. 10, to keep the meeting live on the floor. Vice Chair Madeline Bodin and Chair Chris Plumb in the minority vote.
In days after the heated gathering some confusion was cleared up making board member Scott Kendall the possible swing vote to move the meeting to either fully virtual or a combination of in person and virtual.
In an interview with the Eagle Times, Kendall and Bodin weighed in on their official positions for the preparations for Town Meeting.
Kendall, who was participating remotely via Zoom as he was on the road traveling through Cincinnati, said he wants to maintain the traditional Town Meeting format.
“Let’s keep us a floor town,” Kendall said.
Kendall clarified that during the Monday meeting he was unclear from the information presented as to whether the proposed switch of the annual Town Meetings to completely remote would be a permanent one. He added that his statements and vote were made in favor of not making this change permanent.
“It was not made clear that this was temporary and pandemic related,” Kendall said. “Last year there was talk up north (Montpelier) of doing away with Town Meetings altogether and that was my main concern. Then it sounded like Andover wanted to go completely remote.”
Kendall said that Town Meetings are an important piece of small town government and whenever possible should be a public gathering.
“If we can vote face-to-face it needs to be done. This is how we have done it for 100 years and it’s an opportunity to get to know your townspeople, who your neighbors are and have healthy debates live and in person about town issues,” Kendall said. “I can’t see why it won’t go electronic. It was all a misunderstanding and light of the pandemic my vote will be to go electronic.”
Vice-Chair Madeline Bodin issued a comment via email confirming and clarifying her position.
“I voted in favor of having a hybrid in-person/virtual informational meeting in addition to voting by Australian ballot. We did this last year and I think it worked well. Okemo Valley TV worked hard to create the hybrid set-up for the town, and I’m appreciative to them,” Bodin wrote. “I voted in favor of voting by Australian ballot this year because of the pandemic. I don’t think anyone should have to choose between their good health and participating in Town Meeting. I want people to be able to vote safely, and Australian ballots.”
The final vote and decision is projected to be ironed out at the next Andover Selectboard meeting.
Meanwhile, the Cavendish Selectboard is still in deliberations about the official town meeting presentation but is leaning to a hybrid meeting, according to Cavendish Town Manager Brendan McNamara.
“It is still up in the air,” McNamara said in an interview with the Eagle Times. “Last year we were completely virtual. We are encouraging as many people as we can and we are exploring the hybrid model as we only had 20-25 participants last year.”
Cavendish will decide officially on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 6 p.m.