Rumford should sustain tradition of town meetings


Ending the town meeting style of government in Rumford is a disappointing idea.

The reasons the citizens in Rumford are upset over the state of affairs with the town’s budget are the very reasons why the town needs, more than ever, an open public meeting to air things out.

Face-to-face, person-to-person communication is the way government’s been best done in Maine and New England since revolutionary times. We’ve done it for that long because it still works.

After listening to our neighbors’ concerns, complaints or grievances we take a vote. Those who have something to say can speak their minds or make their case for an argument one way or the other.

Our town meeting tradition is one of the richest and most direct forms of democracy on the planet. It is the epitome of local control and one-person, one-vote.

Lives are busy and time is scarce as we all scramble to make ends meet and care for our families. Still, the responsibility of citizenship – and it is a responsibility – in small Maine towns includes this once-a-year vote and gathering with fellow citizens.

Town meetings make each resident a representative for their own cause and gives each the opportunity to participate in an important legislative body. The process can be choppy as we only do this once each year, but most towns manage. The rhetoric can get heated, but it reminds us we care, are in it together and the government is still ours to debate.

Town meetings generally have little room for partisan-type politics and there are hardly worries about ballot box fraud. Town meetings also give residents an opportunity for at least one annual handshake and hello. This can be beneficial at levels beyond the town budget. Another benefit is that town meetings are relatively inexpensive to conduct. The cost of ballot box elections can rapidly mount, especially when controversy erupts.

In the early 19th century the French political commentator Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

“In New England, where education and liberty are the daughters of morality and religion, where society has acquired age and stability enough to enable it to form principles and hold fixed habits, the common people are accustomed to respect intellectual and moral superiority and to submit to it without complaint, although they set at naught all those privileges which wealth and birth have introduced among mankind. In New England, consequently, the democracy makes a more judicious choice than it does elsewhere.”

We are not sure about submitting to moral and intellectual superiority without complaint, but de Tocqueville got it mostly right.

In simpler words: The town meeting gives all citizens, despite their access to wealth or influence, an opportunity to be heard and vote in a civil forum. The best ideas for the community usually rise to the top and together we do what’s right for our communities.

We hope Rumford holds on to its town meeting and the important opportunity it presents taxpayers and residents.