By Richard Daugherty
Follow the money. That’s largely what is done at Bedford Town Meeting. My early local politics orientation came from overhearing adult remarks around the pot belly stove at the local Farm Bureau usually on Saturday mornings. The comments often came from loud and gruff farmers complaining about decisions made by the Township trustee, or County Commissioners, or School Board Members. About 30 years later it struck me that following the money around that pot belly stove was much more difficult than following it at Bedford Town Meeting. Around that stove, it seemed like the adults were always complaining about how money was spent and since they were not directly involved it always seemed a surprise.
Of course, these childhood and teenage recollections about adult political conversations are fading memories of a time gone by. The pot bellied stove is gone, the Farm Bureau is gone, the Township trustee is mostly a dog warden. But still, it never struck me until about 30 years after the pot belly stove orientation that something like Bedford Town Meeting actually made voters directly responsible for local government expenditures.
Sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s my friend, the late John McCulloch, overheard one of my pot belly stove comments about Bedford sidewalks. As only this kind, gentle, political savvy John McCulloch would do without criticism or belittlement, he admonished me and invited me to show up at the next town meeting or shut up! It took John maybe ten minutes to explain about articles, the manner in which they got into the warrant, all the elected and volunteer committees that participated in putting the book of warrants together, and all the public hearings that took place. What I got from John McCulloh close to 40 years ago is Town Meeting works because the Warrant Articles set the agenda and a skilled moderator keeps the debate civil and respectful. But the most important message from John was, show up or shut up.
It’s always impressive how our Town Meeting process gets us to the point of voting on an article with all voices heard and all following the money…except those not present. There are about 10,000 registered voters in Bedford. Since a quorum of 100 voters is required to conduct town meeting, often 9,900 voters are not following the money. How about that?