April 13, 2023
Improving Town Governance
By Gregory T. Federspiel
One of the goals the Select Board identified last summer was to improve the way town government functions. From the way information flows between staff, volunteers and residents to how we determine priorities, to tracking progress on the priority projects to responding to new needs, there are always opportunities for improvement. This work is always needed and is really continuous but the Board has put a particular spotlight on improving our processes this current fiscal year.
To assist the Board, staff, and committee members, Susan Beckmann, a seasoned management consultant with years of experience in both the private and public sectors, was hired last fall. Work to date has included an inventory of the many boards and committees we have and their work, meeting members to hear their views on what is working well and what needs improvement and identifying common themes for suggested improvements. Similar work with Town department leaders has been undertaken as well.
The work is progressing in stages starting with data gathering – what is the current state of affairs, getting feedback from key stakeholders, identifying improvement opportunities, presenting improvement recommendations to the Select Board and finally, implementing the chosen improvements.
Some of the common themes that have been identified include the need for clear and consistent information sharing between various groups, more efficient information gathering by committees (have a committee assemble their questions and have one person meet with the appropriate staff rather than having multiple members asking similar questions of the same staff) and identifying clear work plans/goals. Many expressed the need to make sure one committee is not working at cross-purposes to another. The priorities and action steps articulated in the Master Plan were identified as a strong starting point for the work plans of various boards and committees. The work of various boards and committees should be aligned with these goals and action steps.
Greater coordination and collaboration amongst boards and committees was noted. Quarterly or simi-annual “summit meetings” amongst various boards is one way to achieve this. Having a stronger liaison system, with the Select Board keeping in touch with a greater number of committees, can also help achieve stronger coordination.
Most of the boards and committees serve in an advisory role to the Select Board. They function to delve deeper into a particular area and provide recommendations to the Select Board for their consideration. The Bike and Pedestrian Committee, the Harbor Advisory Committee, and the Water Resources Task Force are just three examples. However, there are a handful of boards that have a formal quasi-judicial role. These boards hold formal hearings (thus quasi- judicial) and issue binding decisions on applications that come before them. The Zoning Board of Appeals, the Conservation Commission, and the Planning Board all come to mind as examples of this type of board.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting (4/18, a Tuesday due to the Patriot’s Day holiday on Monday) of the Select Board, the Board will be given an update on the work and recommendations to date of the Governance Project. They will also discuss the implementation of a new listening tour aimed at gathering the concerns and priorities of residents.
A critical look will also be taken at the way the budget process unfolds. The Select Board will be meeting with the FinCom on Thursday evening, 4/13, to discuss the current budgeting process and possible improvements to it, including a year long cycle that spends more time on the overarching goals and long-range budgeting needs of the town early on in the cycle before delving into the details of the proposed operating and capital budgets for the coming new fiscal year.
While a lot of good work is being done by staff and volunteers, there is always room for improvement and these efforts are aimed at making sure we continue to have a strong foundation for the municipal services being provided.