We are heading into one of the most exciting seasons in Maine — town meeting time.

Attending town meeting and voting in elections is one of the most powerful things a person can do.

It is a good way to help choose the right people to govern a town, make decisions on how your taxes are spent and offer input about town needs.

Typically, town meetings are held Saturdays in March, with elections taking place either at the meeting or the day before.

A moderator who knows the rules runs the Saturday meeting, fields questions and calls for voting by a show of hands or paper ballot.

The Maine Municipal Association has a good “Citizens Guide to Town Meeting” on its website, memun.org, and it is enlightening for anyone who has never attended a town meeting but may want to do so. The guide explains in great detail what an annual town meeting is and demystifies the process for those who may be shy about taking part.

Having covered annual town meetings for more than 30 years, I’ve never tired of doing so — and look forward to it. It is, as they say, watching democracy in action at its true grassroots level.

Residents who tend to stay in during the cold months come out for town meeting and socialize with people they haven’t seen in months. Some towns have bake sales or offer lunch for a small price. It’s a good way to meet your neighbors.

Discussions can include all sorts of proposals, such as buying a fire truck, paving a road or spending money for police, fire protection and recreation, and pitching in funds to support nonprofit efforts such as volunteer hospice work, meal delivery for shut-ins and mental health services.

The unexpected can happen at town meeting. For instance, a proposal to construct a new town office in a certain location and for X amount of money can be shot down quickly if enough residents oppose it.

As Mel Blaisdell, chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Cornville says, everyone ought to participate.

“Course they should, because it’s their tax dollars — their money that’s voted on at town meeting,” said Blaisdell, 70. “It affects your taxes.”

Cornville, population about 1,500, holds its town meeting in the former Grange hall, a beautiful old structure that has weathered the test of time like many venues rural Maine towns use for such gatherings.

Cornville’s annual meeting typically runs smoothly and swiftly, and voters are cordial and debate issues respectfully. There’s always some humor tossed in somewhere, too. Blaisdell, who has served as selectmen nearly 40 years, notes that things have changed over time, including the length of the meeting, which now might last a mere 1  1/2 hours.

“Oh, God, 25 years ago you’d go four or five hours,” he said. “We’d have 100 people talking and questioning and stuff like that. We had 1,000 residents and 100 at town meeting. Now we have 1,500 residents and we’re lucky if we get 50.”

Blaisdell, who has managed a construction and logging equipment company about 40 years, also is vice president of the Skowhegan State Fair Association.

Acknowledging that as a selectman he is “on call 24/7,” Blaisdell sees his position as a privilege. He enjoys helping residents, seeing that their taxes are well spent and that the town is in good shape, though he is modest about any impact he has made.

“It’s a hobby,” he said. “Some people play golf; I just do town stuff.”

He encourages and welcomes residents to vote in the March 6 election and come to town meeting at 10 a.m. March 7.

“The more, the better,” he said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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