I love it and I hate it, and it’s over with for another year.
The concept of town meeting was designed for the Town of Cranberry Isles. I think it works better here than anywhere because we know each other, we’re stuck on an island together (rather, one of two islands) and we have to live with one another or else move to the mainland in disgrace.
Who was it that said, “Home is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”?
In the world off-island the move to Suburbia has destroyed the sense of community that once existed in small cluster-towns or in city neighborhoods (not to mention islands). The sprawl. The Mall. The drive past it all, on the way to something else. To something better?
But back to town meeting: This year the meeting was on “the other island” (Great Cranberry) because we alternate. For reasons of declining demographics we from Little Cranberry Island (Islesford) still outnumbered the Big Islanders on their own turf, and almost could have held the meeting on the mailboat on the way over. But that didn’t happen, at least officially.
Town meeting is a time when one can disagree forcefully with hairball ideas from otherwise good and trusted friends, and then sit down with them at mid-day and have baked beans and talk about old times.
I’m talking about hairball ideas that would cut funding for education, local libraries and off-island services like ambulance and (free) bus service.
THE RULE: Address the issue, not the individual. He may have that hairball idea, but he’s still your friend and neighbor, you’ve known him all your life, and he may be the one to tow you in from offshore when the John Deere quits. Or, if it’s a different friend, a different hairball idea (even though he’s working on his Ph.D.), he may become an ally in another important cause (and after all, you really do love talking about theology and Anglican politics with him). So don’t insult his dignity in public or you’ll be alone one day, talking to yourself. Or adrift at sea when the John Deere quits. Behave yourself, enjoy the baked beans and curried chicken together, then go at it again the rest of the day.
Civility. Yes. It’s part of what it’s all about, especially while getting various ideas and approaches onto the floor of the meeting in order to vote intelligently—and we do vote intelligently, once all has been talked over. I have never been disappointed in the outcome of Town Meeting. The occasional issue perhaps, but the overall meeting, never. The system works.
Or at least it still works in the Town of Cranberry Isles.
Anyone in Washington listening?
[Addendum: Barb beat me to the blog on this. For a photo essay of Town Meeting 2011, visit http://barbarasfernald.com/2011/03/14/9-hour-town-meeting-with-45-minutes-off-for-lunch/ ]
(By the way, Barb, you did a terrific job as moderator. I loved your great big smile while fielding a rant from one… uh… determined citizen—even though he wasn’t always clear which article of the Warrant we were on.)