Editorial: Shameful turnout

Two recent attempts at holding a special town meeting in Orange have failed to attract the necessary number of residents for a quorum.

It’s a disturbing series of events to say the least ... and one, we hope, that is a coincidence rather than a sign that Orange residents don’t care about where they live and what happens in town.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t look good.

The meetings were scheduled to put the town’s house in order as the end of the fiscal year, June 30, looms. The first time out, fewer than 40 voters showed up, a little more than half the number of eligible residents necessary for a quorum. The next time they got closer — 67 voters — but still fell eight voters shy of the required 75 eligible residents needed to have the decisions made at the meeting to be official.

Think about that: just 67 of the more than 4,800 registered voters who were eligible to vote in the statewide election last November decided they could make time to participate in their form of town government.

That’s shameful.

All the talk about the weather — it was a rainy evening during the first try at meeting — or that there were competing events — the awards night for Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School was taking place the second night — can explain why some residents might not go. And, yes, it is possible that new residents in Orange might not understand that they are an important part of the traditional form of government known as open town meeting. But these possible explanations — actually excuses — don’t altogether offer why all those eligible voters opted to stay away.

No, if you’re looking for a label to put on this poor showing let’s call it what it is: apathy ... too many residents weren’t interested or couldn’t be bothered to take the time to aid in town governance.

Even putting this in the best light possible, this is just a sad situation, one that is grabbing the attention of the town moderator, the selectmen and the Town Governance Study Committee. Already there have been suggestions as to changes they can make to get more people to meetings, such as scheduling it on Saturdays, holding the town meeting at Mahar or dividing the meeting into two sessions.

Maybe such ideas will work to boost interest and attendance, but we don’t see these changes driving the kind of participation that leads to a healthy town and government.

The actual answer may be a change to the kind of town government where elected meeting members or elected officials make all the decisions, without reference to the voters.

At least then town government wouldn’t be held hostage by a lack of a quorum. Such a change would allow people to stay at home and complain.

How is that any different than now?

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