March 2018 Contact: Ruth Simpson
Annual Town Meeting March 13, 2018: Democracy in Action
Circle Tuesday, March 13 on your calendars! It is the date of the Annual Town Meeting. Unlike voting, the Annual Town Meeting is a true form of direct democracy – allowing residents of the township to meet, voice their opinions and vote on their tax levy. It is also a good way to gauge the sentiments of township residents – what do they want in their community?
As with most American political ideas, town meetings have their roots in colonial America. New England town meetings gave citizens a way to exercise local authority. These meetings were especially important in the development of democracy because it emphasized problem-solving through group efforts. Thomas Jefferson called it the “wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government.”
This tradition was passed down to townships here in Minnesota. Township residents gather on the second Tuesday in March at the town hall, or another designated place, to discuss their communities. Typically, residents hear reports from the board of audit on the town’s finances and a roads report. Residents are required to vote on the tax levy. A range of topics – from a new town hall, vacating a road, or giving the board authority to pass an ordinance – can be on the agenda. Many townships hold elections the same day, outside the meeting, for a supervisor, clerk, or treasurer. Remember to vote!
Townships are often referred to as “grassroots government.” This reference stems from the community-based nature of how town government is structured. Most townships have small populations, but a big sense of community. Being small, township officials must be creative in delivering quality services with the least possible burden to taxpayers. Township officers must be responsive to the needs of their residents, since most are friends and neighbors.
Be part of the “grassroots” movement and attend your town meeting on Tuesday, March 13 — be a part of direct democracy.
The Minnesota Association of Townships is a non-profit corporation representing Minnesota townships. Its goals are educational and charitable, promoting an understanding of the history of townships and being a voice for its roughly 9,000 officers. It regularly conducts research and educational programs designed to foster efficient and economical town governmental services and acts as a liaison between township officers and other local government officials to encourage sustained cooperation.