Not all taxpayers are equal at town meeting

The US Court of Appeals has ruled that people who pay property taxes to a town but are not registered to vote there do not have a constitutional right to speak at town meeting. The lawsuit in question, reported on by B.J. Roche in the summer issue of CommonWealth, was filed by Miriam and Thomas Curnin against the town of Egremont after that western Mass. community gave its town meeting moderator "the discretion to determine whether non-voters who wish to speak may do so." The Curnins, who own 120 acres of land in Egremont but are registered to vote in Larchmont, New York, say they were prevented on three times from "speaking on issues important to them as taxpayers," including a sewer project, a zoning law change, and a $350,000 expenditure on a fire truck.

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Yesterday the circuit court disagreed:

…the town meeting is a legislative body in deliberation. The Curnins are not registered to vote in Egremont and therefore are not town meeting legislators. The First Amendment does not give non-legislators the right to speak at meetings of deliberative legislative bodies, regardless of whether they own property or pay taxes.

The entire decision is here; thanks to the Web site How Appealing for pointing it out.