Are town meetings outdated?

During the Wilton Board of Finance's May 16 meeting, board member Richard Creeth shared his personal thoughts about Wilton’s town meeting system of government.

"It was great in the 19th Century, I think it worked well for most of the 20th, but the 21st is a different era," said Creeth. "I really think there are better ways."

The selectman-town meeting involves community members gathering to legislate budgets and policies for their municipal government. This form of direct democratic rule has been used — mainly in New England — since the 17th Century.

Under the state of Connecticut's Home Rule Act, municipalities are permitted to adopt their own local charters and choose their own structure of government.

There are three basic structures of municipal government used in Connecticut, with some variations: Selectman-town meeting, mayor-council, and manager-council.

According to a Connecticut Open Data table updated January 2016:

  • 102 Connecticut municipalities have selectman-town meetings;

  • 30 have mayor-councils;

  • 28 have council-managers;

  • Six have selectman-representative town meetings;

  • One has a general-manager-board of directors;

  • Two have selectman-councils.

Creeth said he doesn’t think town meetings are the way the town of Wilton should be run anymore.

This year’s Annual Town Meeting began at 7:30 p.m. and lasted nearly four hours. A lot of that time was spent discussing matters related to the Board of Education budget and public school system.

“It seemed like half the audience left after that [education] budget was approved without reduction, which worried me because I’m not sure if those people who left knew that there could have been a floor motion to lower the selectmen’s budget,” said Creeth.

While he was “pleased to see the robust debate about the Board of Education,” Creeth said, “a considerable amount of time” was spent after — “when half the audience had gone and [people] were tired” — going over bonding issues.

Although the the Annual Town meeting was “well run” and he was “pleased with the civility and the discourse,” said Creeth, “it was a pretty blurry-eyed lot by the time we went to vote.”

“It just seems like there ought to be a more effective way,” said Creeth.

Board member John Kalamarides said, “Maybe the traditional New England town meeting method has got to be a little different” — but as Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser pointed out: Until a different system of government is figured out, the town meeting is the one Wilton has in its charter.

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