EDITORIALS

What town meeting looks like on a Maine island

Seagulls fly over the cobble beach near the former Coast Guard station on Little Cranberry Island's southern shore.
Seagulls fly over the cobble beach near the former Coast Guard station on Little Cranberry Island's southern shore. Buy Photo
Posted March 15, 2012, at 4:38 p.m.
A chicken walks across the island's main road.
A chicken walks across the island's main road. Buy Photo

A frog played a part in this year’s annual town meeting of the Cranberry Isles. It turned out that the frog was in a pond in the basement of the Longfellow Elementary School on Great Cranberry. The school has been suspended, but the townspeople voted to keep the building open on the chance that more children will reach school age. There are only two now, and they commute to the Islesford Elementary School on Little Cranberry, bringing its total to 11.

The Cranberry Isles meeting alternates between the two major islands in the five-island group. The others have no year-round residents. This year’s meeting was in the Neighborhood House on Islesford, also known as Little Cranberry.

The Islesford School also figured in another item in the meeting warrant. It called for a vote on a proposal to change its name to the Ashley Bryan Elementary School, to honor Ashley Bryan, a nationally honored painter, children’s author and illustrator who lives on Islesford and has helped teach and entertain Islesford school children for 58 years. There were a few objections, but support from the two teachers and a petition from the students helped bring an overwhelmingly favorable vote.

Mr. Bryan had thought the proposal was a joke and hadn’t attended the meeting. Someone telephoned him after the vote, and he came over to join the crowd at a potluck lunch before going to the school for a party with the students.

Other items on the town meeting warrant attracted less attention even if they may have been more important. They included approving the $521,093 school budget, rejecting a $190,000 proposal for a new town office building and approving a tax bill totaling $1,285,752. Some questioned a detail of a proposed fireworks ordinance prohibiting the sale or possession for use of consumer fireworks on the islands. But the fire chief warned that failure to approve the ordinance would bring a flood of fireworks onto the island and create a huge fire hazard. It passed unanimously.

The meeting lasted all day. Some of the discussions were long-winded. Some wandered off the point. The moderator, Barbara Fernald, wrote afterward in her blog that next time she would limit comments to two points and then cut the person off until others had spoken. She said she could have rapped the gavel lightly and said: “I need to stop you here. A prolonged exchange does not allow for other people to get into the discussion, and we seem to be getting away from the nature of the article that is on the floor.” She said she wished she had done that about three times. She wound up by saying, “It’s all I can do to get to the finish line. But you know what? I still love every bit of it.”

That’s the sort of things that communities all over New England deal with in town meetings this time of year. They can be raucous, long and sometimes boring. But everyone gets to talk, and most decisions seem sound. It is true democracy in action.

Oh yes, the frog is gone, but the Longfellow school still awaits students.

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