Now that we’re done congratulating ourselves on the perpetuation of the democratic principals embodied in our participation at town meeting, let’s talk about the real and present danger to our democracy.
It is the involuntary school mergers which are taking place right now. While they are ostensibly about improving education and saving money, Act 46 was designed from the beginning to serve a much different purpose, and that is a consolidation of power which allows a centralized bureaucracy to dictate what our value system will look like going forward. It is in fact the polar opposite of our town meeting-style democracy.
The very notion that somehow unelected state agencies possess the power to overturn the outcomes of duly warned and executed local elections should be universally offensive to all Vermonters, but where is the outrage ? Regrettably the reaction so far seems more akin to a shrug.
I was at my local town meeting in Westminster Saturday morning where some of our legislative representatives put in an appearance, and while they were all willing to spout the usual platitudes about the usual things, not one of them could bring themselves to speak to, or about, Act 46. If the people who represent us in Montpelier can’t speak up for democracy, we are indeed in deep trouble.
The reasons why they, and we, should find Act 46 so deeply disturbing are because these forced mergers represent a direct contravention of the constitutional protections of due process. This analogous to the taking of your home for a highway project without the benefit of an eminent domain hearing. In this case it affects towns which are being forced to assume the debt of other town schools without this due process. This directly violates our protections under the Vermont constitution as embodied in 24 VSA, Section 1755 which says in part, “No municipality can incur liability for bonded debt without the consent of the voters.” That’s not hard to understand, unless perhaps your paycheck comes from Montpelier.
This is the “Dark Money” of the special interests that Jane Mayer wrote about in her book of the same title in 2016, hard at work. And Vermont is the perfect place to put the play on. We are so secure in our knowledge that it can’t happen here, in peaceful, beautiful, reasonable, Vermont, where, unlike the rest of the country, government still seems to work, that our complacency has made us ripe for the plucking.
David M. Clark lives in Westminster.