MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (AP) _ James Douglas does a little moonlighting when he isn't governing the state: He's also the town moderator of Middlebury, a small central community of some 8,000 residents.

Douglas, who has served as the town's moderator for about 20 years, says he never considered giving up the local post when he became governor in January.

So on Monday night, Douglas arrived at Middlebury's municipal auditorium, threw his coat on the bleachers and headed up to the podium to start the once-a-year meeting.

``I think it is terrific,'' said historian Paul Gillies, an expert on town meetings who couldn't recall any other sitting governor who also served as a town moderator. ``It is the equivalent of him changing his own tire.''

On Monday night, Douglas moderated discussions about the town's budget for plowing snow from streets and sidewalks, and the purchase of two new police cruisers and a utility truck.

``I think it's an important element of our democracy that's worth preserving and that I want to participate in,'' said the Republican governor, who has lived in Middlebury most of his adult life.

As far as town moderators go, Douglas is an expert. As secretary of state, a job he held for a dozen years, he published a handbook on moderating town meetings and conducted workshops for moderators.

Town moderators preside over town meetings, annual affairs in which residents discuss and vote on budgets and issues of concern. State law says moderators will ``decide questions of order and shall make public declaration of votes taken.''

Town moderators, an elected position, must not take a stance on issues. They hold no power and do not take an oath of office. But they must know the rules: Robert's Rules of Order.

``It's like steering this giant ship and having people coming away and saying that was a great meeting,'' said Williston Town Moderator Tony Lamb, who taught at a Vermont League of Cities and Towns workshop for town moderators two weeks ago.

Aside from the potluck dinners and chit chat with neighbors, healthy debate is at the heart of town meetings. Moderators must be skilled at facilitating that debate and know how to handle conflict.

``They play a critical role,'' said University of Vermont political science professor Frank Bryan, who attends about five town meetings a year.

On Monday night, most Middlebury residents seemed happy their governor took time out of his schedule to return as moderator.

``He's very good; he does it very well,'' said town resident Larry Whittemore.

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On the Net:

http://www.middlebury.govoffice.com