Even before Fall Town Meeting started this Monday, I was feeling excited. I arrived early, to ask if I could put out some flyers for the Courier and then find a seat where I could hear everything and take notes. I was amazed to realize, around 6:50 p.m., how many people were coming into the auditorium. I thought it must be more than this spring's Annual Town Meeting--and I was right, it was a lot more. Fall Town Meeting tends to be lightly attended. When I lived in Pepperell, which had a volunteer fire department, they would sometimes have to call in the firefighters to get a quorum. We didn't have that problem on Monday.

I couldn't guess what drew so many voters. Sometimes there is a hot-button issue, but the questions and discussion didn't reveal that. Whatever the reason, 153 people felt that it was important for them to be there. And they were right. It was.

I've been attending Town Meetings since I turned 18 and registered to vote--which means decades of them. I've attended them in Acton, Pepperell and Winchendon. I've seen Town Meetings that ran for four straight nights; Town Meetings that went not just to standing votes but ballot votes repeatedly; Town Meetings so crowded that they had to seat people in another room with a monitor and still allow them to comment. I've seen one-issue Town Meetings with triple the normal attendance because of some controversial article (Prop 2-1/2 overrides and school budgets bring more people in than anything else, but sometimes zoning articles can be huge).

I've loved them all, no matter how aggravating they can be. I wouldn't want to live anywhere that did not have open Town Meeting government. It's not that I love meetings, no more than anyone else. But I have a keen affinity for the processes of collaboration, compromise, and cooperation that go into effective government. I like to be part of what makes a community and a municipality tick. Town Meeting is democracy in the raw, as real as it gets. I remember one Town Moderator telling all of us, "you are the legislative body for the town."

Think about that. When you come to Town Meeting, you are the town's legislators. You're making the laws. You're spending the money. You're calling the shots. It's not you versus the Board of Selectmen or the Town Manager or the Finance Committee. We, the registered voters of Winchendon--we're the ones who run this joint.

At least, those of us who attend Town Meeting are! I used to chuckle sometimes, at a lightly attended Town Meeting where I and a few other progressively minded people were happily spending our absent neighbors' tax dollars on things like approving the purchase of conservation land. But every registered voter can attend Town Meeting. It's your right. If you own property here, have kids in the schools, work here, live here, run a business here...Town Meeting is an investment that's worth your while.

I'd like to give a shout-out to Winchendon's new Town Moderator, Coral Grout. I've seen a lot of Moderators over the years, some of them very good, some of them less so. Coral Grout did a great job on Monday. She's made me sorry I have to wait until next spring for Annual Town Meeting!

Inanna Arthen