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February 25. 2013 11:23PM

Middleton mulls whether to keep its town meeting

MIDDLETON - About a dozen residents and officials debated a petition article Monday to do away with traditional town meeting.

If the article passes by a three-fifths - or 60 percent - majority at the polls, the town will decide on all matters by ballot beginning next March. Neither selectmen nor the Budget Committee support the petition.

During a 20-minute public hearing on the proposal, Neil Turner, one of the 33 petitioners for the article, read a statement that explained why some residents want to make the change.

Turner said many are frustrated at how certain articles are passed at town meeting. Some residents feel intimidated by groups within the community, he said, and would prefer the anonymity the ballot box offers.

"That way the majority of the people in town will finally have a say in how they want their town to be run," Turner said, adding residents could still discuss issues and make changes during the deliberative session before voting in March.

"So when you come right down to it, we won't be uninformed will we?" Turner asked rhetorically.

Residents will elect officials, decide on school issues and determine whether to adopt the provisions of RSA 40:13 - known as Senate Bill 2 (SB2) - when polls open March 12 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Old Town Hall along King's Highway.

Residents will discuss the remaining 17 articles during the annual town meeting, which is scheduled to take place March 16 at 9 a.m. in the Old Town Hall.

School Board member Janet Kalar, who's seeking re-election while running for selectman this year, said some people feel pressured to vote a certain way at town meeting. But there are positives and negatives to both formats, she said.

"It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation," Kalar said.

Selectmen Chairman Terri Laughy said she prefers the traditional form of government.

"We're a small community and it (town meeting) seems to be working well," Laughy said.

Selectman Todd LaPierre, who's running for school board this year, was concerned that residents would only show up to vote at the polls and not participate in the process. He said about 35 residents took part in the school district's deliberative session in February.

It was one of the largest turnouts in a decade, LaPierre said.

"I'd like to see Middleton remain with town meeting," LaPierre said.

Selectman Jon Hotchkiss said residents can amend articles at deliberative session or during town meeting - and people can always make a motion to decide matters by secret ballot at town meeting.

Residents in many of the state's towns and school districts have enacted SB2. Communities near Middleton that continue to use the traditional town meeting include Farmington, New Durham, Nottingham, Rollinsford and both the town and school district of Strafford.

jquinn@newstote.com


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