In the moderator’s last stand, Pembroke voters reject a carbon fee, oppose gerrymandering

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  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner greets high school buddy and long-time friend Pembroke moderator Thomas Petit on Saturday GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • There was a smaller than usual crowd at the Pembroke town meeting on Saturday, March 14, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • There was a smaller than usual crowd at the Pembroke town meeting on Saturday, March 14, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke town moderator Thomas Petit reads the meeting rules Pembroke Academy on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Pembroke town moderator Thomas Petit holds up the clock he received for the 31 years of service as moderator at the start of the town meeting at Pembroke Academy on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Petit is not running for moderator after 31 years at the helm. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/14/2020 9:45:44 PM

Surprisingly, many Pembroke residents ignored the illness Saturday that’s causing panic around the world.

Officials had predicted a quick town meeting, maybe an hour or two, and a smaller-than-usual crowd due to the coronavirus that’s scaring the heck out of lots of people.

Instead, at least 136 individuals, according to the results of a ballot vote, attended in the Pembroke Academy auditorium, and they seemed in no rush during the three longest segments from the 2 hour, 40-minute meeting.

Voters said no to carbon-pricing and thus no to taking any action on climate pollution. They said yes to creating a commission that would re-draw district maps after the 2020 census is done, ensuring that voters will receive fair representation in elections in a bipartisan manner.

And they said goodbye to Tom Petit, who’s retiring after 31 years as town moderator and received a boatload of praise and a standing ovation Saturday morning, before the actual meeting got underway.

At the end of the meeting, voters rejected an amendment that would have added $150,000 – earmarked for road repair – to the budget and passed the initial operating budget of $8.57 million, a 3.1% increase over last year.

That made the tax rate increase just 0.5%, or two cents, to $5.77 per $1,000 of property value.

Petit’s farewell led to a surprise guest: Secretary of State Bill Gardner, invited to pay tribute to the outgoing town moderator, his close friend for more than half a century.

They went to catholic high school together, graduating in 1966, and joined local government the same year, 1973, with Petit serving on the school board and Gardner sworn in to the Legislature.

“We were in the same place when JFK was killed,” Gardner told the crowd. “I wanted to be here.”

Then, in a sign of the times, Petit said to his old friend, “I want to shake your hand. Don’t worry, I don’t have anything bad.”

He was given a wood-paneled clock and said, “Why don’t I set it for noon and we can all go home?”

Later, Petit added, “I’ve heard it said that this is my meeting. It’s not; it’s yours.”

The meeting featured rapid-fire hand voting through most of the early articles. Late, the results of a pair of ballot votes were announced. One hundred of 102 ballots cast supported a $30,000 loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, to be used for asset management of the town’s storm-water collections system and the public works department.

The other ballot-vote article approved the operation of sportsbook retail locations, 86-50, with the money to be used to pay town bills, before being funneled to the department of education. Police Chief Dwayne Gilman said he has enough officers to handle any trouble caused by mixing betting and alcohol.

Article 13 called for a “carbon fee and dividend approach that charges fossil fuel producers for their carbon pollution and rebates the money collected to all residents on an equal basis.”

Resistance emerged immediately. One resident suggested carbon farming instead and said the proposal “sounds real nice, but it’s a scam. It raises our cost of living.”

Karen Yeaton, the budget committee chairwoman, also opposed it, as did budget committee member Armand Soucy, who said past warnings anticipating that the earth’s two poles and New York City would be underwater by now never happened.

He rejected the degree of harm caused by waste from cows and the earth-warming methane gas that accompanies it.

“We have to tax the hell out of people for farting,” Soucy said.

Others said the idea was unconstitutional and complained about the re-distribution of money.

A male resident was well prepared, reading a lengthy statement that spoke about saving lives, saving money and saving the planet, all part of what the science community has long confirmed.

“We’ll save 295,000 lives by the year 2030,” he said.

A show of hands, each holding a voting card, illustrated that the town wanted to wait on this one.

Another show of hands reflected strong support to rid the town of gerrymandering, which can create an unfair political advantage to one party or the other. Critics said each resident should act on their own to make a change, as opposed to mandating it.

The meeting ended on a humorous note thanks to the retiring town moderator, known for his jokes at town meetings for decades.

His final one told the story of a man in a bar who paid $250,000 for a frog, which appeared to sing opera while a gerbil played the piano. Why, the bartender wanted to know, would you sell a singing frog, for any price? Turns out the frog could not sing after all.

“The gerbil is a ventriloquist,” Petit said.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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