Vern Maxfield – town meeting moderator for nearly 30 years

Woodstock City Manager Vern Maxfield hosts the 2019 West Paris Annual Town Hall. Samuel Wheeler /Bethel Citizen file photo

WOODSTOCK — If you live in Oxford County and attended your local town meeting, chances are Vern Maxfield was your moderator.

From March to June, and sometimes even longer, the Woodstock town veteran traveled across the county to moderate local government debates at work, with residents gathered in a room to decide how to spend taxpayers’ money and vote for elected officials. , school board members and other elected officials.

He was first selected to be a moderator in 1994; 26 years later, Maxfield’s moderator career is still going strong. By his estimate, Maxfield hosted town hall meetings in at least eight communities – Norway, Paris, Greenwood, Paris West, Hebron, Newry, Gilead and Upton.

Born in Bridgton and raised in Harrison and now living in Norway, Maxfield, 66, served as Woodstock’s city manager for 33 years. Previously, he served three years as a city councilor and three years as a city clerk.

Maxfield’s career as a city official dates back to a time when Woodstock was the last town in America to use a crank-operated telephone system. It started in 1982. The jack was removed from the crank phone system a year later, a move that was not popular with some residents, Maxfield recalled.

How did you start hosting town meetings? I had been working for the town of Woodstock for a few years when the west Paris town hall clerk called me and asked if I would consider moderating their town meeting because their longtime moderator was retiring . This year marked the 26th year that I have served as a moderator. I have always had an interest in municipal administration. Growing up in Harrison, my parents were both interested in Harrison city government, which paved the way for me. I would go to town meetings with my parents and listen and watch, and back then it was often in a room full of cigarette smoke. The role of the moderator fascinated me then, and it still does. Guiding voters to the final decision is very satisfying to me. I appreciate the fact that we still have the freedom and responsibility to run the affairs of our own cities.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to serve as a moderator at a town meeting? Reading and learning the Maine Municipal Association’s Maine Moderator’s Manual is a great resource. Also attend town meetings in different cities and watch the moderator as he leads the meeting. Listen carefully to what voters are asking. If it’s a question about an article, find out who is in the best position to answer the question for them. If it’s procedural, walk them through the process.

What’s the weirdest or most memorable thing that happened at a town meeting you hosted? Last year, about three articles before the end of the term, the electricity went out in the area and we were in the dark. Each (person) present who had a cell phone with them turned on their flashlight and we ended the meeting with cell phone lights on. Certainly a memorable event.

You have been CEO for 33 years. At a time when there seems to be a lot of turnover in the profession, what kept you at Woodstock all these years? I love the work that is work and I love serving the good people of Woodstock. He was a good fit. I believe that God entrusted me with this work, and I did not feel that it changed. Good working relationships with townspeople and elected officials have created stability and a positive atmosphere in which to work.

How has the position of CEO evolved over the years? The work is much more important than it was then. Within a few years, I knew most people by name, but that’s not the case anymore. Definitely more responsibility. Many more reports. Be more creative in developing budgets that are in the best interest of the city. There are more controls from the legislature on how we can and cannot do certain things. Having grown up with the job, it’s probably easier to do that than just getting into it now. Computers have changed much of what we do, making some jobs easier and faster.

Woodstock was the last town in America to use the crank telephone. It was starting to get removed when you became a city official. What do you remember from those days? I remember there was still a lot of hard feelings about the end of the “crank calls” when I came here to work. I knew about the Bryant Pond Telephone Company because my wife’s uncle worked there. However, there are many fond memories of the BPTCO and I am glad that the candlestick telephone sculpture which stands proudly on the town common was donated to the town as a remembrance of this wonderful history. In some ways it was an early 911 system, as it had easy access to the telephone company and (to) your neighbor who was on the same “line”.

What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not moderating a town meeting? My wife and I spend as much time as possible with our family.

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