Moot Transparency

Last night I attended my town’s annual Town Meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the voters to pass the budget for the coming year and discuss other issues put on the warrant by various town departments or petitioners. There were probably about 100 to 150 people there. There are about 5,400 registered voters in the town.

Town Meetings are like elections–a lot depends on who shows up. Last night was no exception. One of the major items being discussed in the town at this time is whether or not to allow the local racetrack to put in slot machines. The racetrack currently has off-track betting on horse and dog races along with simulcasts of various races. There is an element in the town that wants to prevent slot machines from being added. Now you might think that someone who writes a blog named rightwinggranny would be opposed to bringing in slot machines. I’m not. There has been some talk around town about the evils of gambling and the horror it would bring to the town. (Do you remember the song about “Pool” in the Music Man? That’s kind of the way some of the talk is going.) Until the convenience stores stop selling lottery tickets, churches stop playing Bingo, and charitable organizations stop holding raffles, I really think the arguments are rather hypocritical.

Why do I bring this up? Last night, the foes of the slot machines tried a backdoor approach to stopping them. They put an item on the warrant through petition requiring selectmen to have a cost-benefit analysis done on putting in slot machines; then they amended it demanding two independent studies. They further muddied the issue by implying that the selectmen in the town could not be trusted to be objective in studying the proposal or making a decision. The motion was defeated 83-33.

I am a strong supporter of transparency in government. Our selectmen meet weekly, and the meetings are open to the public and broadcast on cable TV. Anyone who is interested can see what is going on. The petitioners should have known that the selectmen had already planned the study they were requesting. The Town Administrator explained that the study was necessary because of the impact of the proposal. It was also explained that the Town Meeting does not have the authority to compel the selectmen to take a specific action.

If the opponents want to stop gambling in our town, they will have a chance to do it at the ballot box. There was no reason to act as though they did not trust the selectmen to make the decision. The selectmen serve three-year terms. If the group that opposes gambling does not trust them, they need to put forth their own candidate. As someone who has lived in this town for more than thirty years, I think our selectmen are trustworthy and perfectly capable of making the right decision.

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