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direct democracy

This evening I visited the BHS auditorium for the second time in my life. The last was some years ago when I took in a performance of Meredith Willson's Music Man; tonight's purpose was more serious but just as entertaining. I was there to take place in that paragon of American democracy, the open town meeting, and to vote on a proposal to rezone part of Bedford Center to allow more freedom in creating mixed-use development. This is how our town government works: everyone who shows up at the meetings is part of the legislature. Pretty cool, if you ask me!

And also, a little tedious. Because a very large number of people had to get up on their hind legs and present their own opinions, often couched in the stilted pseudo-parliamentary language so beloved of committee meetings and phrased as a very pointed question to the town officials who supported the proposed changes nearly unanimously. The speeches were divided evenly between the fors and the againsts, which only points to the ultimate pointlessness of all the discussion because the vote was very strongly in favor of going ahead with the changes.

I was with the majority, and the only reason I bothered to go was to do my part to help get the measure passed: the Center is awfully ugly as it is, so almost anything would be an improvement. I have to say, though, the representative for the developer (who is very much in favor of the new zoning, having been unable for many years to come up with a redevelopment plan under the old rules) just about made me change my mind with the blatant threats she trotted out in the two speeches she made. If we didn't vote for the measure, she announced, the property owner would probably end up putting a concrete shopping mall on the parcel or something. Never mind the fact that if he could have gotten that through the current zoning he would have done so long ago, when you have nine tenths of the audience on your side already threats tend to be not the best way to proceed in convincing the remaining holdouts.

Still and all, it was a fun experience, and quite as good as musical theater. Next time I'll bring Leah along.

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