All Maine Matters

July 2006



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Guest Editorial: Service Should Not Be A Hollow Concept
Elizabeth Prata

The Founders fought a bitter and terrible war to ensure that citizens in the brand-new United States would have proper representation. They held the Constitutional ideals dear and knew that citizens were part of, indeed the bosses of, their newly elected government officials. To that end, they gave “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” It is an incredible gift.

The Founders also said that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

From that splendid ideal written on parchment by the brilliant Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock, Millinocket has tumbled to Councilor Matt Polstein publicly squashing dissent at meetings. Audience members who shake their heads in disagreement are told that their freedom of expression is not welcome and they should stop.

Freedom of Access might seem a minor thing individually, but cumulatively, each citizen is a soldier in the army of national civic participation. Each person who walks up to the town office seeking information about their government but is denied becomes a wounded soldier of the living Constitution. Every time a citizen who brings the gift of himself to a meeting with intent to participate but is squashed, it injures the process our Founders fought to give us.

Millinocket has done and is doing its part to snip away pieces of that sacred parchment. In 2002, during a statewide freedom of access audit, a citizen sought a copy of the Millinocket manager’s expense sheet, a public document, but was told that information needed manager approval prior to release. Similar requests were freely fulfilled from the Millinocket police and the Millinocket schools. The town, however, failed the audit.

The Freedom of Access Audit was conducted under the aegis of the Society of Professional Journalists. It was to test the waters of access statewide and determine if corrective measures needed to be employed. It was because of Millinocket’s failure, and other towns like Millinocket, that the Maine Legislature took the failures seriously enough to establish The Committee to Study Compliance with Maine’s Freedom of Access Laws. Over the course of three terms, the committee studied how to make the First Law in the state, Maine’s Title 1, stronger. Just last year, the Legislature adopted the recommended changes and strengthened Maine people’s first law.

In Millinocket, citizens are not the adversaries. The Founders knew that, State legislators know that. The Council is not a personal playground where childish Councilors afeared of head shaking use their power to silence the people. It is not a place to make money, to gain influence, to promote a personal agenda. It is place where Councilors serve the people.

And that service is best conducted when the people can be heard, where fairness should rein, and where the bonds of civic discourse across the great divide between councilor platform and podium should be shrinking, not growing.

I hope that the officials in Millinocket seek to reach out to the people and invite participation in all its forms, not squash it. Remember, the Founders gave ‘the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,’ and that posterity is sitting before you. That posterity is people asking questions in town office. That posterity is a vigorous free press. Respect them as the gifts that they are- your peers, your bosses, your constituents whom you serve. The Founders are counting on you.

Elizabeth Prata is the Editor of The Monument Newspaper, award-winning Newspaper of record for Gray and New Gloucester. She served two terms on the Committee to Study Compliance with Maine’s Freedom of Access Laws, and is a member of the New England Press Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. She can be reached at, or 207-657-5353

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