Peter Crowley: Pelham TM proves democracy is messy, but works

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The vote was 30-23. And with that, the final and most contentious warrant article of the 2022 Pelham Town Meeting carried with a 57-43% majority.

Although that is not enough to end debate and advance a bill in the U.S. Senate, it would constitute a landslide in a presidential election. And yet in a town with over 1,000 registered voters, the difference was only seven votes. I would like to encourage a larger turn out for Town Meeting next year.

I cannot tell you that it was fun — it wasn’t. It was slow and messy, at times even painful to participate in. Most of the Town Meeting progressed quickly with the articles that dealt with the more important working of town government passing unanimously. Did I really need to be at Town Meeting for that?

Then, the final warrant article came up. It was about a leash-law and I have a dog in that race. The warrant article was discussed for hours or felt like it was. Almost everyone had something to say, at least once. Although I believe that everyone was trying to speak respectfully, it did not always sound that way. Not all of us are articulate speakers. At times, I was confused, maybe the speaker was also. Maybe I confused others.

Amendments to the warrant article were proposed. These had to be discussed and voted upon before the bigger issue could be considered. It was contentious, and it felt interminable. Finally, the article passed and my dog is happy. I hope that I did not lose any friends among the 23 nays.

Every year, we have a minor but contentious warrant article that occupies most of Town Meeting. Every year the outcome is decisive, but hinges on turnout. Pelham’s annual exercise in participatory democracy shows me that democracy is messy, really messy. But, I still think that democracy is better than any of the alternatives and seven-vote margins shows me the importance of showing up and participating in it.

Peter Crowley