Break Out The Yeti Chow, Hilda

Yeah, we got a … bit of snow.

This isn’t that unusual for Vermont, but still. We’re really ready for warmer weather.


Springtime In Vermont

Springtime in Vermont, ladies and gentlemen.

(We’re looking at a possible six to twelve inches today, with likely high winds and power outages. Fortunately, the whole house is backed up by a pair of Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries.)

Town Meeting Day 2019

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You may recall that I’ve been working on my plans for brutal world domination in my spare time, and lately, those plans took another step forward! I got to exercise my status as member of the Richmond, Vermont “Board of Civil Authority” and help run Town Meeting! Next stop, THE WORLD!

Okay, I guess I should back up a bit there. Town Meeting?

Okay, see, in Vermont, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March is “Town Meeting Day“. The voters of each town come together to meet, discuss, and vote on important matters like the town budget … and occasionally, on some rather strange not-so-important matters as well.

This was my first Town Meeting Day as a Vermont justice of the peace. The assembled JPs for each town (my town is allotted 12) make up a body called the “Board of Civil Authority”, which basically works out to “the folks who run the elections and maintain the voter list” and “the folks who hear petitions for tax abatements”. We didn’t have to do much to actually organize the voting; our town clerk took care of that. But I helped set up the gym and the voting machines the day before and I spent pretty much the whole day of Town Meeting proper sitting at a table with a stack of town ballots and a stack of school board budget ballots looking voters up in a notebook and checking ’em off and then handing them ballots. (We had it down to a science — one table for people with last names starting with letters A through L, and another table for the M through Z people. Two people at each table; one looks the name up, and the other hands the voter their ballots. We were a well-oiled machine.)

Polls are open all day on Town Meeting Day from 7 am to 7 pm for residents to vote via Australian ballot for town offices (selectboard, town constable, moderator, library trustee, stuff like that) and for the school board and school budget… but that’s not what really makes town meeting day Town Meeting Day. The Australian ballot is for the boring stuff — town offices and the school budget. The really fun stuff gets hashed out at a 9 am mass meeting where anyone who’s a) registered to vote and b) has enough free time to hang out in a gym for hours on a Tuesday morning, gets to discuss weighty matters of town business and ultimately vote on whether to adopt the town budget. You don’t necessarily get a representative sampling of the town’s electorate… but that’s understood and kind of expected. Town Meeting Day wouldn’t be the same without the quirkiness.

Most towns hold their meeting at the local school; for example, our town meeting takes place in the gym at Camel’s Hump Middle School We also use the school cafeteria; most towns hold town meeting in the morning, get the budget taken care of, and then break for lunch before resuming in the afternoon for any remaining business. I have a feeling that the “town potluck” aspect of Town Meeting Day is what some people like best. You hear stories waxing lyrical about the macaroni and cheese Mrs. Johnson used to make each year before she passed… and stuff like that. In Richmond, the ladies of the town grange sell baked beans, sandwiches, donuts, cookies, and what have you; their baked beans are semi-legendary. Then after that, we come back together for anything else people want to bring up. If someone wants to introduce a motion to declare war on North Dakota, they can do that. If they vote to declare the town a nuclear-weapons-free zone, they can do that too. This year a lot of towns passed resolutions taking a stance against climate change.

It’s a day for democracy on a very local level.

My duties as name-checker and ballot-hander-outer kept on going during the meeting proper; I had my back to the rows and rows of chairs facing the stage where the moderator and selectboard were seated, but I could hear everything just fine. It was sort of amusing watching voters — the ones who came by just to cast their ballot for town offices and the school board budget — blanch as they realized they were going to have to cross in front of everyone to get to the voting booths.

The town budget presentation was pretty straightforward and nothing strange happened during the ensuing discussion … which kind of disappointed me.

See, I’ve rarely made it to Town Meeting in the past; I’m one of the working stiffs whose job just doesn’t lend itself to taking a day off midweek to hang out with my fellow voters at the school. But this one time that I did go — probably about fifteen years or so ago — the discussion relating to the school budget was absolutely hilarious. (This was back when the school budget was discussed and voted on in the town meeting proper; they subsequently changed it to Australian ballot because it was getting voted down in open meeting too often.) It’s not unusual for people whose kids are grown and gone, or who never had kids in the first place, to question the need for “spending so much” on the schools. And so that one time, people kept trying to amend the budget to remove this line item or that line item in the name of saving a token few thousand dollars. The poor town moderator had to keep explaining that the content of the budget was not up for vote; the school board is entrusted with that. The only thing the town voters were legally entitled to do was vote on the total amount to be spent. Voters who objected to a teacher’s aide being funded could move to strike exactly that much money from the budget, and their motion, if passed, would accomplish … pretty much nothing. The school board could still fund that position and reduce a different line item by the amount of the voter-demanded adjustment. (It’s like saying “I object to you spending $15 of your salary on that punk rock CD, son, so I’m reducing your allowance by $15.” Son’s still going to buy the CD.)

But anyway, since the school budget was moved to Australian ballot a few years ago, the 2019 town meeting budget discussion focused entirely on the town budget — highways and roads, police, stuff like that. And while there were a few questions, it wasn’t really a controversial issue. We didn’t even count the votes; it was just one big “ALL IN FAVOR: AYE ALL OPPOSED nay THE BUDGET PASSES” thing.

And then the meeting broke for lunch in the cafeteria. I stayed put, because I was so into my “HEY LOOKA ME I’M A JUSTICE OF THE PEACE AND TOWN ELECTIONS OFFICIAL” thing and wanted to keep on looking names up and handing out ballots.

After an hour or so for lunch, about half the crowd that had been there in the morning trooped back in and attended to “new business”. .. which mostly consisted of random complaining about this and that (parking in the “downtown” area, such as it is, especially). No motions were introduced and there was nothing to vote on. So we wrapped it up and all the attendees went home or off to work … and my fellow election officials and I got back down to the important business of … looking voters’ names up in the book and handing them ballots.

Voters kept coming by all afternoon, but it was pretty slow. We had more than enough bodies on hand to do the work of the ballot-handing-out, so I excused myself and went home and fed the cats and came back around 5:00 to be there for the after-work voting rush, such as it was. That was when Carole came by to vote; I got her to take several photos of me being all Mister Important and stuff, but alas, the volunteer working with me at the table for the people with last names starting with letters A through L told me she did not like having her picture taken and did not want me posting photos of her, so this is what you get — cropped (see below). I’m sure, though, that the excitement and drama still comes through.

 

At seven pm, we closed the doors and wrapped up. It took about ten seconds to find out the results — the tabulation machine spat out a tape with the total votes for each office and ballot question. (We only had two contested offices — one Selectboard seat and one seat on the Library Trustees. Neither wound up being especially close.)

But then came the real fun — the school budget. Richmond is part of a consolidated school district with four other towns — Huntington, Bolton, Jericho, and Underhill. Two JPs from each of those towns had to take their locked school board ballot box and bring it to our voting location, since we’re central. And two of us Richmond election officials had to stay as well (I, of course, had volunteered). We had to open the boxes, take out the big pink cards with “shall the budget blah blah blah be adopted YES NO” on it, and “commingle” them. Meaning, we had to dump them all on a table – over 2,000 of them – and sort of mix them around with our hands before gathering them back into stacks to feed manually into the tabulators. The idea was that by mixing the ballots up we wouldn’t know how the vote had gone in any given town, even though the ballots had no town-of-origin mark on ’em. (I honestly didn’t see the point, but who am I to argue with tradition?)

With two tabulators and three humans feeding the ballots into each, one by one, it took us about an hour to feed them all in.

SHEER EXCITEMENT.

And then when all was said and done, the budget passed by a wide margin. I was very glad about that, because frankly, it drives me crazy how some towns’ voters seem to take an infantile joy voting down their school budget over and over. I’ve seen towns have to hold follow-up budget votes three times before they finally manage to pass a revised budget. After each failure, the school board has to go and meet and issue a revised, lower, budget proposal. And, of course, a lot fewer people come out for the subsequent votes, so typically it’s the people with a real axe to grind who show up to cast a ballot. No wonder it can take multiple tries to get a school budget passed. So, like I said, I was very glad our budget passed; thrilling as the exercise of my official responsibilities was, I don’t want to have to do it again for a year or so.

People always ask “Why don’t we hold town meeting on a weekend, or in the evening, or just do away with it entirely and have everything, including the town budget, get voted on by Australian ballot?” The answer? Tradition. No matter what alternate time of day or day of the week you propose, there are always people who object based on various imaginary or real conflicts they’d have. Some towns have moved their meetings, and others have switched to all-Australian-ballot voting, but the vast majority of Vermont towns still do things the old-fashioned way. (If you’re curious, there’s a map that breaks it down.)

I guess it’s those baked beans that the Ladies of the Grange sell. No one wants to miss out on those, right?

I Am Easily Amused, Part 763

Car Wash Psychedelia

You have to take your hat off to the American entrepreneurial spirit. Posed the question, “how can we make more money running a car wash?” America has answered “Appeal to the stoners”.

I give you the Eco Car Wash of Williston, Vermont:

This particular car wash is the first in our area to offer a subscription-based model, where for approximately twice the cost of one car wash, you can have one car wash a day, all month long (renewing automatically until you tell them to stop). And it’s certainly the only one I know of in northern Vermont with day-glo green, purple, and orange suds.1I know it’s far from the only one in the USA. You can do a YouTube search for ‘psychedelic car wash’ and find no end of hits.

Aaaaand… according to the guys that work there, they do have stoners who show up, light up a joint, enjoy it for a bit, and then go through the wash, giggling the whole way.

Tell me that’s not genius.

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I know it’s far from the only one in the USA. You can do a YouTube search for ‘psychedelic car wash’ and find no end of hits.

Notary Public

My term as a Justice of the Peace began officially on February 1. (I’m one of twelve JPs for the town of Richmond, Vermont.) As I’ve detailed before, in Vermont the office of Justice of the Peace means:

  • you serve on the town elections staff
  • you can preside at weddings
  • you serve on the board of abatement (if a taxpayer requests a tax abatement hearing)
  • you can serve as a magistrate if the Vermont courts request you to (which I doubt ever happens these days)
  • you can be a notary public without having to pay the registration fee

Well, I filed the paperwork to be a notary public, got approved, and ordered my notary supplies (which I had to pay for — those aren’t free). So now I’ve got a stamp, an embosser, and a nice little logbook to record all the notarizations I carry out. Woo-hoo!

No, it’s not that exciting. I have no doubt that any number of you readers are also notaries, especially if you work in banking, real estate, legal services, and so on. But it’s still kind of cool.

Anyone need anything notarized? Let me know!

 

Athens in the 1980s

Athens, Georgia in the 1980s was known for being a hotbed of alternative music. The B-52s hailed from Athens. REM was from Athens. A host of other, lesser-known but well respected bands came from Athens. You could go to your choice of clubs around town, the best-known being the 40 Watt, and hear up and coming bands (and some not so up and coming — those were the ones who got to perform on Monday nights) any time you wanted. Someone eventually made a movie about the incredible Athens music scene, “Athens, GA, Inside/Out” which, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to be available for streaming anywhere, or I’d tell you to go watch it.

And there was, a student at the University of Georgia, having arrived in town just when the big push came to up the drinking age to 21. The US government mandated that states raise the drinking age; if they didn’t, the Feds would withhold federal highway funding. Grumbling, states complied. In Georgia, they raised the drinking age from 18 to 19 in 1984, then from 19 to 20 in 1985, then from 20 to 21 in 1986, one increment each year for three years, so those people who could already drink could keep on doing so but those who were just shy of being old enough … well, we got the shaft.

I know, I know, it was for our own good, but it really sucked as far as my social life was concerned. Most of my acquaintances at that time were a year or two older and could go to clubs where alcohol was served, or to the Georgia Theater (the “Carafe and Draft” at that time), but I couldn’t — even though two years earlier (were I the same age then) I’d have been able to. Some clubs let under-aged students in with a wristband or stamp on their hand, but others didn’t let you in at all. And in any event, being the kid drinking Coke when everyone you were with was pounding down one beer after another was really, really lame.

(But on the other hand, I was a whiny little loser that I doubt anyone much enjoyed being with, so if the “sorry, you’re underage, you can’t come in” thing hadn’t been a valid excuse, people would just have come up with another. Can’t blame ’em, really.)

But the long and the short of it was that there I was, in the absolute goddamn epicenter of college rock in the 1980s, and for the most part, I experienced it the same way anyone in any college town would’ve, via the radio.

UGA had a great campus radio station, WUOG (“The Last One Left”, due to its position on the FM dial) and if you kept your radio tuned there, you’d eventually hear everyone who was anyone in the alternative rock scene: REM, Pylon, Love Tractor, Berlin, the Smiths, Bauhaus, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Beat Farmers, the Dead Kennedys, the Butthole Surfers, the Circle Jerks, the Violent Femmes, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Shriekback, and countless others. WUOG is where I first heard “People Who Died” by the Jim Carroll Band. It’s where I first heard “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.

Carole, for her part, missed out on all this musical wonderment by virtue of a) being three years younger than me, and b) going to college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard. I assume there were alt rock stations in that part of the world, but evidently she didn’t listen to ’em. (She says “I was busy majoring in boys”.)

I put an “80s Alternative Rock” playlist on today during lunch and all these memories came spilling back. Each song that came on was an old friend to me but completely new to Carole. As we sat there eating, I wound up having to look up the lyrics to Berlin songs (“The Metro”, “Sex (I’m A)”, etcetera) for her, so she could follow along… and a bit later found myself explaining that saying “‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (by Joy Division) is one of the best known alternative rock songs ever” isn’t oxymoron. As is my wont, I wound up going into much more detail than she really wanted or needed. So, finally, rather than attempt the impossible — catching my wife up on years of alternative rock history in the space of a meal — I simply had done with it and played her “Take The Skinheads Bowling” by Camper van Beethoven. (She loved it.)

That’ll have to do for now. 🙂