READFIELD — A public hearing on a ballot question asking to have articles on the annual Town Meeting warrant put to referendum at the polls brought out the voters Monday night.

Eugene “Gene” Carbona, who said he became a proponent after a petition drive was already in progress, described the concept to about 60 people gathered on the second floor of Asa Gile Hall, the Town Office.

He talked about being at the annual Town Meeting with his wife and with neighbors who were new acquaintances and about how issues so divided the two couples that their fledgling relationship fractured.

Carbona said moving to a secret ballot — or Australian ballot — as he preferred to call it, would “end the fractured attitude that exists here in Readfield.” He said it would be a step to “opening communication with the selectboard that runs the town and the people who live here.”

Carbona said voting on articles at the polls would “ease the discomfort of voting in public,” allow more people to weigh in on town business, and bring in those unable to attend a three-hour annual meeting that ends after dark.

Carbona said he researched how it works in other towns in Maine, including Jay and Monmouth, and even a town in Massachusetts, and learned that “residents are happy that they get a voice and can vote in private.”

The article on the Readfield ballot Nov. 4 asks whether the townspeople, “beginning with the 2015 Warrant Article Voting June 9, 2015 polls,” want to use a secret ballot for referendum questions rather than town meeting voting and keep the polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 9, 2015, for the vote. Sue Reay, chairman of the selectboard, told those assembled that the vote on the secret ballot issue would be advisory only. She said the selectboard could decide to follow voters’ wishes, come up with an alternative plan, or decide not to go to secret ballot.

Reay said she began to research the idea after the petition was brought in.

Monday night’s meeting was the first of two on the issue. The second is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 27 in the same location.

“The Australian ballot allows everyone to have a voice,” Carbona said. “Really nothing is going to be taken away from the committees or selectboard.”

He said the goal of the petitioners is to increase resident participation at the Budget Committee and selectboard meetings.

Carbona said a series of mini town meetings or special hearings would be set up so people could discuss the issues “so you don’t feel like you’re losing something.”

John Parent, chairman of the Budget Committee, spoke against the proposal. “We would definitely be losing town meeting,” he said. “Town Meeting is probably one of the last vestiges of democracy left in this country.” Parent also said he was concerned that people going into the ballot booth to vote on the town’s $6 million budget may “not have the information they need.”

Others spoke in support of the referendum ballot proposal, among them Pam Glidden, who said she was uncomfortable voting in public.

Marion Dunham said she has trouble hearing and was unable to hear things at the annual meeting in June. She said she collected signatures for the petition and found older residents eager to sign.

“It’s just a way to get a lot more people,” Dunham said.

Resident Jeff Freeman asked, “Why doesn’t Readfield move into the 21st century and do some polls via cellphone? Let’s just put down the dukes. Let’s join hands. There’s a lot of things we can do that would bring Readfield into the 21st century.”

Resident John Stanley countered, “I think we need to be careful about the rush to modern technology,” saying that some residents don’t have cellphones or computers.

At one point the discussion got so heated, that Reay asked for a private word with Carbona outside the meeting room while Selectman Valarie Pomerleau told the residents, “Just listen to what’s being said. Come to the mic and express your opinions if you like.”

Resident Lorraine Wagner, who said she took out the petition, said she was concerned that a number of people for various reasons cannot attend the Town Meeting but can get to the polls. “If we have 700 to 800 people voting, it would be better than 70 to 80,” she said.

Resident Greg Leimbach said he had not been to a Town Meeting in years. However, he added, “I’m involved in the town; I know how things are going to go.” He also said, “Democracy is uncomfortable.”

Resident Lenny Reay recalled “total chaos” involved in a vote at a school board town meeting two years ago.

“Somehow we have to have a paper ballot so we don’t have to holler,” he said. “I think we should give this a lot of thought. We have to get more people involved.”

Resident Marty Hanish said he believes more people should come to the Town Meeting to get their information rather than see it on billboards as they do in election.

“I’m passionate about this now,” Carbona said at the close of the two-hour session. “This has to happen and this will happen.”

This story has been corrected to remove a quote that was mistakenly attributed to Sue Reay, chairman of the selectboard.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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