Gray matters — The town meeting tour
Well, it's getting close to that time of the year when residents are asked to spend a Saturday deciding everything from who will serve on the Board of Selectmen to how much to spend on road repair and of course, which kind of home made pie to choose during the lunch break.
Yes, town meeting season is upon us in Waldo County, and while it is a fine old New England tradition that Mainers in many small towns still uphold, March can be a bit of a whirlwind month for the Journal staff. There are often too many town meetings with too many important issues and not enough time in the month (or space in these pages) to cover all that is discussed at community buildings and town halls across the county.
It is, after all, a bit of a privilege to be part of the process that locals have held onto for generations as a way to make their voices heard and be part of all decisions relating to the way their town spends the money collected from tax dollars each year. We know all of them are important, and it can sometimes be difficult to decide which meetings to attend each weekend.
It was said Phil Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, once referred to journalism as a first rough draft of history. While covering a Searsport town meeting may not rise to the level of breaking the Watergate story, those accounts are still an important part of keeping our neighbors informed, while also providing a paper trail for those who will come long after we're gone and wonder how their predecessors built the place they call home.
But, aside from reporting on the election news or the arguments over how much of the town's money should go toward a new fire truck, there are often aspects of town meetings that sadly never make it into print, but certainly make the annual town meeting tour a memorable time.
There's always one joker in the audience who thinks it's hilarious to issue the same inevitable comment that comes with the discussions regarding funding requests from area nonprofits. It seems whenever the request for New Hope for Women arises, some wise guy proudly stands and delivers some variation of, "there ain't no hope for women." Ha ha. Insert comedic drum roll and cymbal here.
First off, it is a lame comment, but it is always humorous to me because the people who say it obviously think they are the first to do so. I would kindly request folks change up the material a little for this year — might I suggest a few more lawyer jokes aimed at the good-humored moderator, or perhaps a well-placed, excrement-based play on words when the question involving the wastewater treatment plant comes up. And remember, timing is everything.
One of the other things I get a kick out of at town meeting is what residents choose to argue about tooth and nail compared to what passes with little or no discussion. And hey, it's their town meeting, the residents are certainly within their rights to discuss whatever they wish — as long as the moderator finds it relates to the topic at hand. That said, I am always amused when voters fight for 60 minutes or more over a proposed 50 cent hike on the trash stickers, but don't say a peep about passing a $180,000 road repair request.
Perhaps the best part about town meeting is the lunch break — the time when everyone in town has a chance to break bread while catching up with their neighbors, congratulating newly elected town officials and mulling over the remaining articles on the warrant. There are few other times of the year when one might find such a fine variety of home-style comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, every kind of casserole known to man and just about every home made pie you can imagine.
By the way, I'm a huge cheesecake fan, in case anyone was wondering (a subtle and shameless hint, I know).
But really, I think the best aspect of town meeting season is seeing all the neighbors socializing together, watching the children who come with their parents grow up a little bit more every year and getting a front row seat, article by article, to seeing a town stay true to the wishes of the people who live there.
Even if it does mean I'll likely be booked every Saturday this month.