In this crazy world of high-powered officials making decisions for us little people, it’s awfully good to know we still have some local control through annual town meetings.

They say the town meeting is the purest form of democracy. I’d vouch for that.

In 28 years of covering town meetings in Kennebec, Somerset and Waldo counties, I’ve learned that people can make a difference in what happens in their communities.

They have the power to determine what gets done, who will govern, where their taxes go and how much money is spent on what. All votes count.

I’ve covered selectmen and planning board meetings all year in a particular community where issues have come up, requests made and related items placed on the town meeting warrant. While it may appear the items will be approved, enough people turn out at town meeting to nix them.

There are times when an article appears to have no traction, but one person raises his hand to discuss it, and the next thing you know, voters have approved it unanimously.

Sometimes heated discussion over an issue can go on for more than an hour until all angles are exhausted, a vote is taken and the request passes or fails by a slim margin.

Debates can be animated, funny, compelling, serious, entertaining.

Town meetings generate some of the best quotes for news stories. Residents speak from their hearts and oftentimes with passion.

They literally come out of the woods to attend town meeting, particularly in the most rural areas.

It may be the only time during the year they get to socialize and have a chance to address issues that most directly affect them — a road not plowed properly, annoying potholes, a broken streetlight.

They’re allowed the opportunity to air their thoughts, vote their conscience.

Aside from the focus on civic engagement at town meeting, there’s also an opportunity to brush elbows with the past.

Many meetings are still held in historic Grange halls, beautiful old structures where floors creak, tall windows transport rays of sun inside on a cold March day and voters sit on the same wooden chairs and benches used by folks 100 years ago.

Some meetings are quick with moderators running through warrant articles rapid fire, and voters making fast, efficient choices. Others continue on into the afternoon.

Lunch may be offered at a minimal cost. Some people bring their own while others go home to eat.

Some meetings are packed; others, sparsely attended. What the weather will be during town meeting time is anybody’s guess.

A snowstorm might blow in or it may be sunny and mellow.

I’ve covered meetings in the frigid cold when the snow was knee-deep. Other times, the sun was so warm people stood outside during the break, shirtsleeves rolled up, soaking it in.

In the end, voters typically walk away from town meeting with a sense of satisfaction — a feeling they accomplished something, even if they didn’t get everything they wanted.

Participating in town meeting is a privilege — a right that not everyone everywhere gets. And it’s one of the few activities that links us to past and future.

Before this tradition, too, disappears, we’d do well to partake.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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