Sharon votes to keep in-person Town Meeting format

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-05-2024 6:45 PM

SHARON — Residents overwhelmingly voted against switching all town business to Australian ballot voting during Tuesday’s traditional Town Meeting.

Just under 100 people turned out to Sharon Elementary School Tuesday morning to debate town business during the roughly two-hour floor meeting. With 1,197 voters on the checklist, turnout was about 8%.

The three articles that proposed switching the election of all town officials, all budget articles and all other town questions to Australian ballot were the most discussed, with the majority of the more than 20 attendees who spoke in support of keeping the Town Meeting unchanged.

Some of those who supported keeping the floor meeting worried that going to Australian ballot would lessen connections be tween neighbors and the ability to have meaningful discussions.

“I think Town Meeting is about business and School Meeting last night was about business … but it also gives us a chance to see who is in town,” Douglas Smith said. “I think each of us by being here this morning has connected with a few different folks.”

Dennis Tatro was one of the few voters in attendance who supported a switch to Australian ballot. He said that when Town Meeting started, many people were farmers who lived in the community and could make time to attend.

“Times have changed over the last 200 years,” Tatro said, adding that more residents work outside of town which can make it more difficult for them to attend.

The change to Australian ballot could give more voters a chance to participate, he said.

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“I think it’s a much better way to do business as far as the town is concerned,” Tatro said.

Ryan Haac initially spoke in support of electing all town officials, including trustees of public trust funds, Baxter Library and the Downer fund, which voters had done from the floor earlier in the meeting.

Then, he heard from other residents about what people who volunteer for those roles would have to do to be put on an Australian ballot, including collecting signatures well in advance of Town Meeting, and reconsidered.

“I think that’s a little too much to ask,” Haac said. “Based on some of the comments here, I’d like to correct myself.”

Later on in the discussion, Elaine Kearns pointed to Haac’s change of heart.

“I think Ryan gave us a great example of Town Meeting,” she said.

All three Australian ballot articles failed by voice vote, with a just handful of people offering support. Later in the meeting, residents offered up suggestions for boosting participation, including moving the meeting to the evening or a Saturday.

“We haven’t discussed this extensively as a Selectboard,” Chairman Kevin Gish said. “I’d like to. It’s worthwhile.”

Plans were discussed to put a survey out to residents to solicit more feedback before making a scheduling decision.

As a last order of business, Jill Wilcox asked voters to support a nonbinding resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza which residents approved by a voice vote.

The proposed $2.02 million municipal budget passed by a unanimous voice vote without discussion.

Voters also approved removing the role of constable.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.