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There's a city in southern Maine - it doesn't matter which one - that has just elected a group of citizens to something called a "charter commission." If you don't know what a charter commission is, believe me, you're not alone. There's a good chance that many of the people now on the charter commission of this un- named Maine city don't know exactly what a charter commission is. There's an even better chance that most Maine citizens don't know that their city or town operates under a charter and if they do know they're not the least bit curious about what the charter says.
In fact, if someone did a survey of Maine citizens on the question of charters I'd be willing to bet my lunch money that the survey would reveal fewer than a dozen people in any city or town have read any part of their charter and no one anywhere could explain in simple declarative sentences what any of the hundreds of Maine's local charters actually mean.
If that's the case - and I believe it is - why would anyone want to risk stirring up a hornets nest by creating something like a charter commission?
The answer? To get out of the house at night.
Think about it. You can only work late at the office so many nights a month. You can't say your at the gym. Look at yourself. You're spending a lot of time at the bakery, maybe, but no one would believe you're going to the gym. You can't say your going bowling. It's 2009! Who's still bowling?
So you tell your spouse that you've decided put selfish concerns aside and in the interests of the community you're announcing your candidacy for one of the seats on the town's charter commission. There's a long indelicate pause as your spouse looks at you trying to decide if you're making a joke or if you've finally gone crazy.
You say you'd like to stay home with the family and enjoy a rousing game of parcheesi, or canasta but your fellow citizens need you, your town needs you and you must answer the call.
You think I'm kidding?
A few weeks ago I was talking about this charter commission business on my weekend talk show on WGAN and I invited candidates for the charter commission to call in and explain themselves. Several did. When I asked one candidate if he was just looking for an excuse to get out of the house he said: Well, John, there may be something to that because the only person who refused to sign my nomination paper was my wife.
Truth is, I don't know why people seek such offices. Some may just want to get out of the house but some may truly enjoy long boring meetings where members talk for hours about paragraphs and clauses and sub-sections a. and b. Most of us don't.
Fact is, charter commissions don't come around that often. Some towns never touch their charter once it's been approved. In most towns the carter - once in place - is thrown into a draw somewhere and never seen again.
But charter commissions are just the tip of the municipal iceberg you might say. Any local government of any significance has all kinds of excuses for getting out of the house at night.
You have planning boards and boards of appeal. There are committees to oversee drinking water, committees for rubbish and recycling and, of course, soon after drinking water is drunk it becomes waste water and there has to be a committee to deal with that.
If you're thinking about running for something like a charter commission you might first want to attend a few meetings in your town or city hall.
Afterwards you might agree that a rousing game of parcheesi is more to your liking.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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