Down-East Democracy Deals With Culverts
SOMEBODY running for office admonished us the other day with, "The voters will remember!"
I think not. I happen to have experience in that direction, and while I wish they would, I believe the voters have the finest forgetter in the world.
I was moderator for our down-Maine town meeting for many memorable years, and I don't recall that our voters ever remembered anything from even a year ago. The White Queen told Alice it is a poor sort of memory that only works backward; sometimes I think it's a pretty good memory if it works at all. As an example, I recall something that happened on my maiden flight as Mr. Moderator; we took care of a culvert on the Beech Hill Road.
Just before annual town meeting, the Board of Selectmen must prepare the warrant. This is an agenda of numbered "articles," and the meeting can't take any action that isn't provided for in this warrant. So if you look at the warrant and decide not to involve yourself, you can safely stay home and know nothing will be sneaked in. Also,
forewarning gives a chance to ponder and be ready.
So that town meeting day we came to the article about a culvert on the Beech Hill Road. Just the article before, the town had voted without any debate and nary a nay to appropriate $78,000 for new fire equipment, a sizable generosity in those days, and the serenity that prevailed proved misleading. This culvert, quite on the other hand, would involve a half-day's work for two men, and $10 for hackmatack planks.
Sime Balkers arose.
"Mr. Moderator," said he. "I direct a question to the chair. Is this culbert to be in the public way or on private property?"
Moderator: "Will somebody answer the gentleman?"
Selectman Roberts: "We don't know. Depends on what we find when we start to dig. Probably in the town way, but if it extends farther we'll ask for an easement. The situation here is really bad, and something needs to be done."
Sime: "I thought so. If this culbert runs on town property, that's one thing. But let's not raise money for improvements on private land."
Luther Urquehart: "Mr. Moderator! This mudhole needs a cul-V-ert running approximately 25 feet, mostly in the town way. Not more than 5 feet would extend onto my land - if that much - and I'll be glad to give an easement into my drainage gully. Anything so we folks on Beech Hill can get to town in the spring without a boat."
Sime: "The question comes on tax money to ditch private property."
Ensuing speakers were Martin Goodhale, Rufus Gouday, Dean Bradshaw, Luther Bonython, Herbert Ringleaf, Gerald Hastings, and Ronald Peabody.
An hour and a half passed.
As moderator, I was careful to keep things orderly. Four times I had to remind that an amendment may be amended only twice, and three times Dilly Magoun tried to insert "not" in the original motion and all 17 amendments.
Mr. Urquehart offered that he would do the digging himself if the town would buy the planks. Billy Woodruff, who ran the sawmill, offered to donate the planks. This shows you how true Down-East democracy in the raw handles things.
Now Sam Pulsifer asked to be recognized. "Mr. Moderator," Sam said, "I think we have a difference of opinion here that we're not likely to resolve today. I believe this culvert is needed, and I'm not opposed. But we need more information. I move the matter be given to a committee of five to report at our next annual meeting."
This motion passed, and as moderator I named the committee.
But the next year nobody remembered to insert an article to hear this committee's report, and the town never heard anything further about the Beech Hill Road culvert.
Until now, and 60-odd years later, nobody remembers if it got fixed or not.