FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
At least once a year the, Board of Selectmen meets in a more informal setting to review how they function as a board and to identify priorities for the coming months. The Board met last Friday morning for their most recent workshop session which focused on improving how meetings are conducted and on identifying priorities. This week I will focus on meeting improvements with a deeper dive into priorities the following week.
Selectmen meeting agendas are generally quite full – there is a seemingly never ending stream of issues and decisions that need to be made. The meetings also afford a time for the Board to hear from residents about the issues that are on the agenda though such input is always at the discretion of the chairman. By state law, only listed agenda items can be discussed and decisions rendered. Challenges arise in balancing the need to efficiently conduct the business of the Board and affording ample time for public input.
When a particular agenda item only draws a few interested residents it is easy to allow time for those attending to give their input. However, for an item that draws a large crowd, implementing some time limitations are necessary. When many people want to speak, people will be urged to keep their remarks to 2 minutes (which is actually longer than you might first think – you can convey a large amount of commentary in 120 seconds!) A second or third opportunity will be provided after everyone has had a chance to speak once. Speakers are asked to step up to the podium to use the microphone for use in recording the proceedings for future broadcast on the local access channels run by 1623 Studios (formally Cape Ann TV.)
To help provide more complete information on agenda items and reduce the number of basic questions at meetings, topics will be introduced with more background information. And the process being followed will be reviewed upfront as well in order that those in attendance have a good understanding of how the meeting will proceed. For agenda items that we know will generate a lot of community interest, single agenda special meetings may be utilized more often so as not to be constrained by other agenda items, though it is not always easy to predict which topics will trigger a large amount of interest!
Greater use of handouts will be part of future meetings. Selectmen receive a considerable amount of material on each agenda item prior to the meeting. We can make much of this material available to the public as a way to elevate everyone’s understanding of a particular topic.
Another goal of the Selectmen is to make sure to bring in the expertise of our Department leaders to meetings. Their professional training and experiences provide valuable perspectives and can aid considerably in the decision making process of the Board. While summaries of staff recommendations are typically provided to the Selectmen prior to a meeting, always making sure the subject experts are in attendance at meetings ensures that these experts can help respond to questions that come up at meetings. It also affords an opportunity for the public to interact with staff and hear directly their recommendations.
These efforts should help make Selectmen meetings achieve the dual goals of running efficiently while affording the public the opportunity to better understand the issues at hand and provide value added input into the decision making process. As always, if you have other ideas please let me know.