In Mendon’s very early days in the late 1600’s, involvement in decision making at Town Meeting was so important that fines were levied to residents not only that did not show, but also left early. The original order was as follows (left in the original spelling):
“Att a generall Towne Mettinge April 14, 1672 It was ordered, by Reson of Neglect of persons not attending towne meettings, that, If any person or persons neglect Attending the towne meetting, being Legally warned, they shall pay, as a fine to the town’s use, two shillings a pece for Every neglect, with out it bee upon more than ordnery ocasion, and if any depart the metting before the metting bee dismissed they shall pay aforesaid.”
Two shillings in 1672 would be equal to somewhere around $300 today. Clearly they believed that participation in Town meeting, and the WHOLE meeting, was important. The Mendon Historian Metcalfe, commenting on this practice, says:
“much saving of time would have been secured, to say nothing of the bickering and ill blood (which the votes of a thin town meeting usually engender), that would have been avoided.”
What Metcalfe is commenting on here is what I like to call “rule by the motivated minority”. In a Town of over 4500 registered voters it’s hard to believe you have a representative sample when fewer than 100 voters attend a meeting. In some cases, we have had as few as 25 voters.
Naturally we no longer fine voters for not attending Town meetings, but they are no less important today than they were in the 1600s. Please exercise your right to have input and vote on issues important to your community at the Annual Town Meeting on May 6th at 7:00pm at the middle school. I hope to see you there.