Nancy Oden

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Machias Valley News Observer, March 12, 2009

NEWS with VIEWS

by Nancy Oden

Town Meetings — An Important Tradition

Last week I went to Jonesport’s annual Town Meeting, along with about 170 other people. Isn’t it great so many people care about their government?

Jonesport’s Town Meeting is held in the famous Jonesport-Beals High School Gymnasium, where many champion basketball games have been won; the winning banners hang above the stage. It was exciting just to be there.

The Jonesport Fire Dept. was selling hot dogs in the rear, Girl Scouts were selling cookies, and neighbors were visiting, some for the first time since winter began. I met lots of good people.

Mr. Moderator was Harry Fish, Jr., and he kept the meeting on course as Michelle Merchant Libby won election as Office Manager/Town Clerk/Treasurer/Tax Collector. Then Howard Mills, Jr. was elected as one of Jonesport’s Selectman, Gary Geagan was re-elected to the Board of Assessors, Julie Farris and Ernest Kelley, Jr. were elected to the School Board, and so on until all the Town offices were filled.

All votes on elected office were done by secret ballot, which meant everyone had to line up and write their choice on a piece of paper, take it to the front, put it in the ballot box, and then we waited while the ballots were counted. This was done separately for each and every elected office.

Secret ballot is always best; that way no one knows who anyone voted for, so there can be no hard feelings. It is more time-consuming than raising hands, but people took the opportunity to walk around and visit while the votes were being counted.

Jonesport is not one of our poorer towns; revenues for 2008 were over $2 million. It shows in the quality of their local services, including the beautiful, large library. But thriftiness rules, as some monies are always set aside for contingencies.

The next town over, Jonesboro, much smaller at about 600 people, used to get 50 or more people to its Town Meetings. Not so many attend now. Jonesboro went to something called the “Australian Vote” (I think that’s it’s name) a few years ago, and in that system Selectmen are elected a few days ahead of Town Meeting.

Electing a town’s leaders is always, as in Jonesport, the main reason for going to Town Meeting.

Used to be Jonesboro would have a community supper before Town Meeting, and then the Selectmen would be elected along with decisions made on other Articles in the Town Meeting Warrant. Perhaps some Jonesboro resident will ask the Selectmen to go back to the traditional way: electing officers at Town Meeting instead of days earlier.

Town Meetings are our last vestige of real democracy where we, the people, make the decisions that affect our lives. Long Live Town Meetings!

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