Are we Disengaging from Civic Life in New Hampshire?
Over a century ago, Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, observed that the strength of our nation lies in the public’s ability to guide policy decisions and action, whether at the local or national level. It should come as no surprise that New Hampshire towns have followed this strong tradition of public participation in local governance for over three centuries. In fact, New Hampshire is one of only a handful of states that still has in place the town meeting form of government, whereby town residents come together to legislate local policy at an annual town meeting. During this meeting, residents debate—and ultimately decide upon—town budgets, local laws and ordinances, and other matters of local import.
But this strong tradition of public participation in local governance has hit its fair share of bumps in the road, as many New Hampshire towns have adopted a ballot-vote form of government known as Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), which is replacing the town meeting form of government. Instead of debating local policy, budgets, and other matters, they come to a vote in SB 2 towns.