Originally published in Castine Patriot, December 7, 2017 and Island Ad-Vantages, December 7, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, December 7, 2017
Town meeting participation starts now
by Faith DeAmbrose
Petitions, agency requests, ordinances and warrant articles are a few of the components of a town meeting, and as the process begins locally, there are a number of ways citizens can participate.
In Maine, the most common form of government is the town meeting-selectmen form, according to information published by the Maine Municipal Association. Serving as the legislative arm, voters elect representatives and set the priorities for the coming year.
The first Saturday in March is reserved for Sedgwick voters. Deer Isle and Stonington follow the first Monday of March and Brooksville and Penobscot the first Tuesday of March. Other towns follow suit in later months, finishing by mid-May.
Public notices, found in newspapers and online, list available municipal and school positions and give the deadline for returning nomination papers. Papers are available and already circulating in each of the first towns.
Town meeting is a legal requirement, although the only specified business is the election of municipal officers. Business comes in the form of a warrant, drafted by the board of selectmen with the assistance of other town departments. Schools are responsible for their own budget and warrant articles, although they are listed on the selectmen’s warrant.
How to participate
Run for office: Check with the town clerk, read public notices or follow the local newspaper for information about town election and town meetings.
Attend budget, selectmen, school board meetings: The best time to make your voice heard is before the town meeting warrant and budgets are drafted. The votes taken to expend money at town meeting, directly correlate to tax bills in the coming year.
Draft a citizen petition: Check with the board of selectmen; they have the ability to place articles on the warrant, but many times they will ask to see support by other citizens in the form of a petition.
Any registered voter can circulate a petition for a local initiative, signed by voters in that municipality.
Signatures equal or greater to 10 percent of voters that voted in the last gubernatorial election are required, although town clerks suggest collecting additional signatures in case some are unable to be counted.
Petitions can be circulated at any time of the year, but those looking to draft petitions included in the town meeting warrant should do so by specific dates. Once received by the town, municipal officers can either insert the article in the next town meeting warrant or shall within 60 days call a special town meeting.
In Deer Isle 100 signatures are required, and the selectmen “would prefer to have petitions 45 days before town meeting in order to have everything to the printer [of the warrant/town report] on time,” according to the town clerk.
In Stonington the filing deadline for petitions is January 4, 48 signatures are required.
In Sedgwick the filing deadline is February 9 to make the town report, and 61 signatures are required.
In Brooksville a petition is needed by January 8, 56 signatures are required.
In Penobscot a petition is needed by January 8, check with the town clerk about number of signatures needed (which was not available by press time).
A number of town clerks contacted for the story suggested consulting with the board of selectmen when considering a petition. Petitions that would be “beyond the powers” of a town or constitute an illegal act or would be at odds with state or federal law will not be considered, according to Maine Municipal Association, the member-led organization that represents municipalities throughout the state.