I’ve always loved local government.

When I was a kid, I was inspired by attendance at Winthrop’s town meetings, held in the gym, which was packed.

I served five years on the first Winthrop Town Council, after the town abolished town meetings. I was a young know-it-all who often offended other councilors. I did start my own town newsletter that was very popular.

But I still missed town meeting, and after meeting my wife Linda, looked to move to a small town, luckily landing in Mount Vernon, a town we have loved for 40 years. When we moved to Mount Vernon, I was a county commissioner. I did not really enjoy that job, so was not disappointed when I lost my reelection bid.

I quickly took on new tasks in Mount Vernon, including time as a selectman and member of the Planning and Appeals boards. In 1991 I wrote the town’s comprehensive plan, and this year I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with a great group of Mount Vernon residents to create a new one.

I’m sometimes asked why I never ran for the Legislature, and I answer that it was more fun to tell them what to do and then go home. And that’s the truth! I was also asked, more than once, why I never served as commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I did have opportunities to do that, but I could never be a bureaucrat, although I do admire many who work at the department.

I just picked off my bookshelf a book titled “Local Government In Maine,” written by Kenneth Roberts and published by the Maine Municipal Association in 1979. The book’s illustrations, by Tim Sample, are very entertaining.

The book’s first paragraph sums it all up: “Government is people. It is people deciding the rules they will live by, the services they need, and the people they will elect to carry out their wishes.” Also noted is that “municipal — or local — government is the unit of self-government closest to the people it serves.

The book provides a fascinating look at how government began and progressed in our country and state. Each Maine town is unique. For example, Ellsworth covers 84 square miles, more than 40 times the size of Maine’s smallest community, Randolph. And most Maine towns are still governed by town meetings.

Unfortunately, participation in local government issues and projects has diminished. Even in 1979, it was evident that “most citizens don’t participate in discussion of important issues, don’t attend town meeting, and don’t vote,” Roberts wrote. A smaller percentage of Americans vote than in any democratic nation. Very sad.

And this is of special concern today: “The quality of the representation and the services delivered depend on participation and involvement of the people.” Yup — the ugly dysfunctional political system we suffer these days is our fault.

But here is the good news. We can change this by participating in government and elections at a much higher level. As the book notes, “People participating in the activities of government is essential to good government and effective delivery of services. This is particularly true in local government.”

You should start by getting better informed about local issues and government. Mount Vernon’s Select Board does a good job of informing us about the issues and their work, as well as volunteer opportunities, publishing a monthly town report that includes the minutes of their meetings.

And here’s some really good advice from the book: “Citizens can get involved by volunteering on committees, boards, and commissions organized by the local government for special purposes.”

That is certainly true. But here in Mount Vernon there are lots of other ways to serve the community, including our ride service for folks who need transportation. Local lake associations and the 30 Mile River Watershed Association also offer great volunteer opportunities. Some folks help maintain trails for the Kennebec Land Trust, while I join others who pick up roadside trash.

My all-time favorite job has been trustee of our wonderful library which serves the people of Mount Vernon and Vienna. I’ve been a library trustee for 35 years and led a campaign that raised $370,000 to expand our library, a very exciting project that is now underway.

There are lots of good reasons to step up and get involved in our political and governing systems, and to volunteer for many important projects. And I can promise you, from my own experiences, that you will receive much more than you give.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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