Woodstock Town Manager Vern Maxfield moderates the annual town meeting in West Paris in 2019. Samuel Wheeler/Bethel Citizen file photo

WOODSTOCK — If you live in Oxford County and have attended your local town meeting, chances are Vern Maxfield served as your moderator.

From March through June, and sometimes even longer, the veteran Woodstock town manager has traveled throughout the county to moderate the proceedings of local government at work, with residents gathered in a room to decide how to spend the taxpayers’ money and to vote for selectmen, school board members and other elected officials.

He was first selected to be a moderator in 1994; 26 years later Maxfield’s moderating career is still going strong. By his estimate, Maxfield has moderated town meetings in at least eight communities — Norway, Paris, Greenwood, West Paris, Hebron, Newry, Gilead and Upton.

Born in Bridgton and raised in Harrison and now living in Norway, Maxfield, 66, has served as the town manager in Woodstock for 33 years. Before that he served three years as a selectman and three years as town clerk.

Maxfield’s career as a town official goes back to an era when Woodstock was the last town in America to use a hand-crank telephone system. He began in 1982. The plug was pulled on the crank-phone system a year later, a decision that was not popular with some residents, Maxfield recalled.

How did you get started moderating town meetings? I had been working for the town of Woodstock for a few years when the then-West Paris town clerk called and asked me if I would consider moderating their town meeting because their longtime moderator was retiring. This year marked the 26th year I have served as their moderator. I have always had an interest in town government. Growing up in Harrison my parents were both interested in Harrison’s town government, which set the stage for me. I would go to town meetings with my parents and listen and watch, and back then it was often through a room full of cigarette smoke. The role of the moderator fascinated me then, and it still does. Guiding voters to the point of a final decision is very satisfying to me. I enjoy the fact that we still have the freedom and responsibility to direct the affairs of our own towns.


What tips do you have for someone who wants to serve as a moderator at a town meeting? Reading and learning from the Maine Moderator’s Manual from the Maine Municipal Association is a great resource. Also, attend town meetings in different towns and watch the moderator as he leads through the meeting. Listen closely to what the voters are asking. If it is a question about an article, find out who is best to answer the question for them. If it is procedural, walk them through the process.

What is the strangest or most memorable thing that has happened during a town meeting that you moderated? Just last year, about three articles before the end of the warrant, the electricity went out in the area, and we were in darkness. Each (person) present that had a cellphone with them turned on their flashlights, and we finished the meeting with lighting from the cellphones. Certainly, a memorable event.

You’ve been a town manager for 33 years. At a time when there appears to be a lot of turnover in the profession, what has kept you in Woodstock for all these years? I enjoy the work that the job presents and I enjoy serving the good people of Woodstock. It has been a good fit. I do believe that God had this job appointed for me, and I haven’t sensed that changing. Good working relationships with the townspeople and the selectmen have created stability and a positive atmosphere to work in.

How has the job of town manager changed over the years? The job is a lot bigger than it was then. Within a few years I knew most people by name, but that isn’t the case anymore. Definitely more responsibility. Lots more reporting. Being more creative in putting budgets together that are in the best interest of the town. There are more controls from the Legislature with regard to how we can and cannot do some things. Having grown with the job, it is probably easier to do than it would be just stepping into it now. Computers have changed much of what we do, making some work easier and faster.

Woodstock was the last town in America to use the hand-crank telephone. It was beginning to be phased out when you became a town official. What do you remember about those days? I remember there was still a lot of hard feelings about the end of “crank calls” when I came here to work. I did have knowledge of the Bryant Pond Telephone Company because my wife’s uncle was employed there. However, there are many fond memories of the BPTCO and I am glad that the Candlestick Telephone Sculpture that stands proudly on the Town Common was donated to the town as a remembrance of that wonderful history. In some ways it was an early 911 system, because there was easy access to the telephone operator and (to) your neighbor that was on the same “line.”

What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not moderating a town meeting? My wife and I spend as much time with our family as we can.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: