Vermonters, indeed most New Englanders, are all about "local control," from their town meetings and individual town and school governing boards to their town owned and operated highway crews, police forces, treasury functions, record storage and many more complex functions of government.
The problem is, this is an incredibly wasteful approach to providing government services, and in the case of the smallest towns, like Woodford, even fielding an effective slate of officers is close to impossible. And they are not alone.
The town currently is searching for listers to help the Select Board certify the grand list and then the tax rate, which of course depends on the grand list. It was unclear last week whether the town had even one lister to accomplish that vital task.
In other towns, there is a distinct, chronic shortage of qualified residents to handle jobs such as treasurer, delinquent tax collector and auditor, not to mention constable, animal control officer, health officer, zoning administrator, or even select board or school board member.
These are not fence viewing positions we are talking about, which could be filled by almost anyone. Small towns have for years been falling further and further behind the governmental curve by not having full-time, well-qualified residents in these positions. The situation in Woodford and other Bennington County towns now appears critical in some instances and serious in others in which those performing important duties clearly are not the best or the brightest, leaving towns open for ineffective to incompetent management.
What can be done about this worsening problem? Not much immediately if charter or other formal changes are required. But town leaders should be looking for help outside their own little municipal worlds and assessing whether cooperative agreements with other towns might not be a more rational and effective way to accomplish more effective government.
This shouldn't be a time to keep old, comfortable political power bases in place at the expense of efficiency and/or competence, and voters should be willing to force consideration of something other than the reflexive "local control" when the need is clear.