Some people in Maine towns mark the date as soon as they get their calendar for the new year. Others don’t want to know anything about it.
We’re talking about Town Meetings, or March Meetings, which are designed to do some important town business and add a little excitement to this thrill-challenged time of year.
When our colonial ancestors first started experimenting with the town meeting concept they tried scheduling their meetings in other months, but after a long period of trial and error, New England towns finally settled on the month of March because — as they rightly observed – March is the most useless stretch of days ever to occur on a calendar.
Think about it. What else is there for decent, hardworking citizens in Maine to do in the dreary month of March but sit around a town hall for three or four hours and argue with their neighbors. Even those rare towns among us that are inhabited by enlightened citizens can easily conjure up one or two serious problems in March, when the rotten weather has a way of making even the most ideal situations worse than they are.
Those who are into conspiracies – and who isn't these days – like to think that town meetings were set in March by ruthless town road commissioners. They argue that no one in their right mind would vote against a road budget, however bloated, after riding over a few miles of the town's pot holed and frost heaved roads. The ride to town meeting in March is a strong argument for spending whatever it'll take to get the roads in good shape.
Of course, anyone in Maine with any smarts has made plans to be enjoying the sunny weather in places like Florida when March arrives in Maine.
Some of Maine's trendy towns – with no respect for New England tradition – have abandoned March meetings altogether and now have their town meetings in unsuitable months like July, or worse - August.
But, in March, we're much less likely to be busy with out-of-state visitors and more likely to attend a town meeting. What better time to get together and get all the town's unpleasant business out of the way before the nice weather arrives?
Back home when I was a kid the town manager who planned our March meetings was Amos Mathews. At selectmen's meetings when asked a question like: "How many people work for the town these days, Amos?" He would scratch his head and say something like: "Work? I'd say hardly any of them." Amos also had a framed needlepoint hanging on the wall behind his desk. It read: "So little time; so little to do. He was a true town employee.
I heard recently that Amos finally retired and they're planning to name the town hall's new wing after him. Selectmen have hired a new town manager from away named Fred Clark, who says he plans to tear up the pea patch there in town and finally get some things done.
I just hope he doesn't reschedule March meeting. The town needs all the excitement it can get at this time of year.