Last night I attended my fifth or sixth Town Meeting and, like voting, it's a very humbling experience. Stow has an open Town Meeting, which means it's open to all voters. I grew up in a town that had representative Town Meeting, which meant that the town was too big to house all the voters who would want to come. While my middle school history teacher tried to explain what it was (he was a representative), I never understood it until I moved to Stow. It's a practice that dates back to colonial times and is somewhat unique to New England. We have a moderator who makes sure everything runs smoothly and it's quite official with the Town Clerk on stage, the Selectmen, Town Administrator, and Finance Committee seated at the front and we methodically plod through the Warrant which specifies each and every piece of spending for the following year's budget.
If you want to participate in how your town is run, move to a town like Stow that has such a form of self government. You get to decide how much each town employee gets paid, whether the fire department will get that shiny new fire truck, and all kinds of other issues that may seem mundane to most, but are really quite interesting. Over the years we have had contentious debates on big projects like whether to fund a new school or buy land for playing fields and little things like whether to officially recognize the name of a road. But the great thing about Town Meeting is that anyone can discuss any of the items on the warrant. You can ask Why does this person get paid this much?" or "Why doesn't the police department buy a hybrid vehicle?" (a perennial favorite). If you want, you can feel free to vote against every spending article if you want and have the satisfaction of knowing you did so. And unlike large elections that don't turn on a single vote, often Town Meeting votes are quite close. In Town Meeting your vote certainly counts! Especially if there is an issue that divides the town.
Unfortunately, last night we learned that our Town Moderator, Ed Newman, is suffering a serious illness. Gary Horowitz (pictured), Deputy Moderator, ran the show and broke the news to everyone in attendance at the beginning. He read an optimistic letter from Newman who vowed to preside over next year's gala. Town Meeting, while it has its moments, is certainly far from boring. During votes or down times various people "entertain"–this year there were presentations on the upcoming 325th Anniversary celebration known as Springfest as well as an update on our elementary school building effort. Plus, you get to talk to lots of people you don't usually get a chance to talk to. Apparently, though, not everyone appreciates the power they have at Town Meeting or appreciates the entertainment. Attendance last night was 211 and there are 4464 registered voters; a rate of a little less than 5 percent.
The Persuasions are one of the world's premiere a capella groups who began singing together in Brooklyn on street corners and subway stations in the 1960s. From there they went on to release 20 albums. How did they come to our little town? You may remember the tragedy of the death of 19 year old Frankie DeMeo, captain of Nashoba Regional's wrestling squad. Vinnie Sestito, an entertainment industry executive and Stow resident, brought the Persuasions here to kick off the Frankie DeMeo Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund, which is being run by high school students, aims to create "a Northeastern experience inside the high school," according to Sestito. The reference is to Northeastern University's well-known internship program that combines classroom experience with real-world training. The fund aims to help learning disabled students achieve their potential. Frankie struggled with an autism spectrum disorder, but through wrestling and hard work became a success in high school and was preparing for college.
Donations can be sent to Frankie DeMeo Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Nashoba Regional Scholarship Fund, PO Box 523, Bolton, MA 01740.
The social and entertainment event of the year in our neck of the woods has to be the Battle of the Bands at Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton. This is the second annual event and proceeds benefit the Friends of Sudanese, an organization that assists Sudanese refugees who were brought to the Boston area in 2001 by the State Department after 9 years in a Kenyan refugee camp. Last year, my wife and I had the opportunity to meet one of these refugees who told us how different life is here and helped us to appreciate just how great this country is.
I bring my daughters to this annual event because there are very few opportunities for 9 and 6 year olds to see live rock concerts. To them, these musicians are every bit as famous as Avril Lavigne or Miley Cyrus—well, okay maybe not that famous. They dress up in their concert gear (i.e., leather) and sit in the front row and take in all the sights and sounds. They have a couple of teachers host the event, with some bad jokes that the students are quick to jump on, and this year's show was coordinated by Stow's Sam Tobia. They have judges. They have scoring. And, yes, they have a winner. But the winner doesn't get a recording contract. Instead they get a $100 gift certificate to a local music shop. What did you think this was Fox's America's Best Band?
Top Image: Stow's Adrienne Wickham-Gobert adds a female vocal presence to the all-acoustic trio The Travis and Wes Experience (plus Adi). Bottom Image: Stow's Mike Sestito fronts for the rock band Timeless Infamy.