Sunday, July 3, 2016

New England Town Meetings

Hey, all. Cam Flaherty here, the farmer in Edith Maxwell's Local Foods Mysteries series. Happy Independence Day Eve.

Edith will give away a copy of Murder Most Fowl (US only) to one commenter here today!


Even though spring brings a lot of work on a small organic farm, I always make time to go to Town Meeting in my little village of Westbury, which is nestled in the northeast corner of Massachusetts.

If you're not from New England, you might not know about this form of government, but it's been going on since the Puritans first hit the Northeast shores. Of course, then it was only the white male landowners who governed the town's business, but now it's any registered voter. The town elects three selectmen (men or women), as well as a Finance Committee and a School Committee, but any matter costing more than some set amount of money must be voted on by a certain percentage of the town's voters.

But because all the residents of the town have a chance to voice their opinion, the meeting can go on for a long, long time. Edith's latest tale of my encounters with crime in Westbury, Murder Most Fowl, opens at a day-long Saturday town meeting on the first nice Saturday of March. Here's a short passage from that scene:


Cam  shifted on her seat. It could be hours before feeling returned to her butt. Checking the booklet that included all the topics to be voted on, she groaned. This was only the eighteenth article. Nine more remained. They couldn’t possibly try to finish it all today. Could they? The long-time moderator was a dean at a local college and knew how to control this group. She leaned over to speak with the lawyer who provided counsel to the town, and the murmur of conversation in the hall rose. The moderator straightened and rapped the gavel.

“Quiet, please. Does anyone have something new to offer? If not, I will entertain a motion to put this to a vote.” She shaded her eyes with her hand and scanned the crowd, then audibly sighed when she saw who stood at the public mike. She addressed the woman. “Do you have something that hasn’t already been said in the last two hours?”

An town hall much like Westbury's
You get the picture! This scene, which is a vote on a parcel of open land, sets up simmering tensions in Westbury between the long-time residents who need affordable housing, the well-off newcomers who want more ball fields for their children, and a group who would like to keep the land open for walking, horseback riding, and nature. And it all plays into the murder...

Remember, Edith will give away a copy of Murder Most Fowl (US only) to one commenter here today!

Readers: What's your experience with town meeting? Are you active in whatever form of town government you have, whether it's big-city precinct politics or small city governance? What government-level situations have you seen that just might lead to murder?

Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her short story, “A Questionable Death,” was nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. 

Maxwell is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site, edithmaxwell.com.

44 comments:

  1. You can never have enough ball fields for the kids. Kids should spend more time outside playing and less time on electronic devices. Reading is good too. My mom started all of us reading when we were very young and continued the practice thru our teens.

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  2. People will always fight over land use! lkleback@hotmail.com

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  3. It's been an on going fight since the settlers came along. Rich people think they should have it more because they "deserve" it, the poorer ones need affordable housing but then they might tear everything up and not take care of it.

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  5. I'm not really involved in city government. I'm not a political person and wouldn't really know where to look.

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  6. I've heard of town meetings but have never been to one.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

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  7. You have probably read on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet about the White Settlement, Texas (outside of Ft. Worth) city council banning the mascot cat from the public library, then quickly reversing its vote due to public outcry. Small town politics at its best...? bobandcelia@sbcglobal.net

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  8. I used to be involved in our city council . We have a federal Marine Sanctuary here so it's critical we are all involved. seascapelife at gmail dot com

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  9. In my younger days, I worked on a presidential campaign making phone calls and passing out flyers. I also helped get out the word about a commercial building going in a quite residential area. Wow, it was eye opening about people with opposing views, but murder? Sure.
    kat8762@aol.com

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  10. Awesome author!! No experience really with town hall meetings but living in Washington DC feels like a dysfunctional town meeting every day! Does that count?!!

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  11. Oops...forgot my email address: Pucsbride13@gmail.com

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  12. Oops...forgot my email address: Pucsbride13@gmail.com

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  13. Awesome author!! No experience really with town hall meetings but living in Washington DC feels like a dysfunctional town meeting every day! Does that count?!!

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  14. Never attended one. But my Mom was secretary on the planning bd. In small town and I will say money always does the talking.

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  15. Attended a city council meeting years ago to support a neighbor vs neighbor conflict. Amazing how some think anything they do is OK even when it really does hurt others.

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  16. Having worked in government, I know what a sticky wicket it can be at times. Important issues are only important to those who believe in it and no matter how hard you work at it unless you have people who believe in it it will not pass. Thanks for providing an insight into Edith Maxwell's book. robeader53@yahoo.com

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  17. We actually had a similar situation in my small town. It wasn't resolved through town meetings but it was all about land that had been willed to the county. The land lay dormant for over 10 years. The dispute was between a park and either doing nothing with the land or selling it. We finally got a park. It took over 10 years but we now have a beautiful park with ball fields and trails. The issue involved the lighting for the ball fields at night. People in the area were very much against that. Thank you for the opportunity to win your book! garczynski at aol dot com.

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  18. We don't have town meetings. We have elected officials who get voted in (or out) like other electoral.

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  19. I'm a bit of a wimp. I won't offer to be on any of the home owner's association's boards. I can't take the politics and time.

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  20. The town I live in is so tiny, we're a village or something less than that. We have no town government. The next town over (where I work) does, but I've never attended a council meeting or anything. I work at the public library, so I tend to not get involved in political issues unless it has to do with the library.

    I can't wait to read this one ~ I have it on my wish list.

    brookeb811 [at] gmail.com

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  21. Having a house torn down could lead to murder! Donamaekutska7@gmail.com

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  22. I would love to go to a Town Hall Meeting here we have City Council Meetings but you hardly ever get to say anything. Sounds like a great book and I would love to read it.
    Marilyn ewatvess@yahoo.com

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  26. I haven't been to any city council meetings. I can see where neighborhood disputes can escalate into problems, but luckily our neighborhood is pretty quiet. Looking forward to reading "Murder Most Fowl".
    diannekc8(at)gmail(dot)com

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  27. The only town meeting I have ever been to was the one to deal with the drug problem in our high school. One of my really good friends died from a drug overdose and he purchased the drugs from a highschooler, he was only 28 when he died. I hope nothing leads to murder from a town meeting, but you never know. utaker555@gmail.com

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  28. I'm not particularly "into" politics small or large. Working with staff & parents via a PTA position was enough for me back in the day! Thank you for a chance to win Edith's latest. sxygrndma48{at}yahoo{dot}com

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  29. I have not been involved in town government. I have been a teacher for thirty years, though, and have had to deal with a lot of different personalities!! lindaherold999@gmail.com

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  30. No, I have not had to be involved with town government, thankfully! But my husband dealt with town governments a lot. And he was good at it. Very tactful and patient.

    ElaineE246 at msn dot com

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  31. I have not been involved with town government. I don't have the time. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  32. I never did attend meetings with town government. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

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  33. It is hard not to be involved. There are so many issues that need to be addressed. A few of the town meetings we've been to were well managed and did not last forever, thankfully. Rarely would someone be rude and loud. On the board of a couple of national agencies. As far as one that could lead to murder? Two. And in one of them. I wanted to wring someone's neck. Della at deepotter@peoplepc.com

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  34. Hello, I must say that your books sound great! I love my Cozy Mysteries, and I can imagine people getting all riled up at the town meetings! I am not into politics as another commenter said on here, but, in our city, people are always arguing about potholes and houses that need torn down because of neglect. I suppose one can commit murder over a case as that. I would just LOVE to read your book! HA! Thanks!! pc1977@zoominternet.net

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    1. Patty, you are the winner! Congratulations.

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  35. Small towns politics at it's best karenlalsip@gmail.com

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  36. There are homeowners associations where I live but that's as close as it gets to town meetings. I don't know if there are open meetings for any of the smaller city governments around here. The town I live in doesn't have any. It's too small for a government of any sort. They even took our post office away and left us with a window.
    I wouldn't join in anyway. I'm not the joining type. lkish77123 at gmail dot com

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  37. Hello Edith, I do not go to town meetings but I do watch them on my towns loal channel. I often see people I know commenting on issues. The meetings minutes can also be read online. I am looking forward to this new adventure with Cam! Thanks, Maureen

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  38. Happy Fourth! I don't attend town meetings but I can believe there would be all kinds of dust-ups that could lead to murder! Property line disputes, noise ordinances, liquor license requests-- the possibilities are endless. Thanks!
    JHolden955(at)gmail(dot)com

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  39. Town meetings, no. However, I served on the local school board. We had some issues that led to strong arguments and raised voices. Luckily no murders. cheers@marjimmanor.com

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  40. I now live in Ne England but I've never been to a town meeting. I think I just may start attending and get more involved in local politics. Sharon Maher irish9795@hotmail.com

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  41. Thanks to all of you for your interest. Patty Kovach is our randomly selected winner! Congratulations, Patty.

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  42. Hi , and thank you for the giveaway. years ago a smaller town we lived in televised the town meetings, sometime interesting to watch how they solved the conflicts or didn't. All elected officials here where I live now. I wanted to and did start a business in my home some 40+ years ago way back t hen I had to bring all my plans to the city council. One lady did everything she could to stop me. Was a terrible trouble maker in the neighborhood. She moved right after, I had my business for about 26 years before I retired. Georgia
    queenvictoria50@aol.com

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  43. I've been going to our Town Meeting since we moved here over a decade ago. My town also held the largest town meeting in Massachusetts history when voting whether to negotiate with the local Indian tribe about building a casino here (didn't happen, but they still own the land here). That one they held in the high school football field.

    I even sent Meg Corey from the Orchard mysteries to one in slightly fictional Granford, where she disrupts the proceedings by accusing one of the presenters of murder.

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