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My first column ran the first week of June in 1995 in the Lewiston Sun and ten months later - in March of 1996 - I wrote my first column about this month of March - the month known here in Maine as the most useless month that ever the mind of man or woman devised. A more insignificant stretch of days does not exist – not even in the Mayan calendar.
For these reasons I have written an annual column about this month just to add to all the things I’ve said about it in the past.
Is it any wonder that March was unanimously chosen as far back as colonial times as an ideal time to hold those quaint civic gatherings known fondly as Town Meetings?
“Let’s meet in March. Nothing going on. Might as well sit around and argue town business,” a colonial official must have said.
And so the tradition of the March Town Meeting was born.
You can see the old-timey roots of the town meeting in the official proclamation that orders our selectmen to gather qualified residents to deal with the town’s ‘issues.’
It opens like an unwelcome letter from an shifty lawyer:
“Greetings: In the name of the State of Maine, you are hereby required to notify and warn the inhabitants of the Town of Herring Gut, in said County and State, qualified by law to vote in Town affairs, to meet at the Odd Fellow's Bingo Emporium, in said Town on…”
You can’t say you weren’t warned.
The specific time of the town meeting also sounds stiff and official. It never reads simply Saturday morning at 10, but “Saturday, the 21st day of March, AD (Ante Domini) 2004, at ten o'clock in the forenoon, then and there to act upon Article l …”
Over the years I’ve been to my share of town meetings, both as a duly warned taxpaying resident and as a newspaper reporter.
The articles that ask if the town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of, oh, two-and-a-half million dollars or so, for Public Roads usually goes gliding through without a peep. Sometimes a disgruntled taxpayer may complain about the condition of one street or another, but most people know that we’ve got to have roads and roads cost money and whatever the sand and gravel boys want they should get.
Over the years selectmen have gotten pretty clever with numbers and are able to do some fancy footwork with town accounts. You might have an article that says something like: “To see if the town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $20,000.00 for a fence at the recreation field; $8,000.00 of which to come from Surplus, plus $5,500.00 raised in 2000 for the roller-blade court that never got built; plus $6,000.00 from the surplus sesquicentennial hot dog and pizza account and the remaining $500.00 from last summer’s bean supper and bingo night account.”
Since people in Maine towns love to argue about such things, these article will go on to say, “Location of the fence to be established by mutual agreement of the Recreation Committee the Board of Selectmen, the town manager and the regulars down at the Stop’n Pay.”
If committee members, board members, the manager and ‘the regulars’ end up, as likely, slugging it out over the location of said fence, you’ll probably see an article at the next year’s town meeting: “To see if the town will authorize Selectman, in an attempt to avoid unnecessary legal and medical costs, to make decisions on Town matters, such as fencing, without mutual agreement of Recreation Committee, the town manager and the Stop’n Pay regulars.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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