June 25, 2021
Local Governance is Alive and Well
By Gregory T. Federspiel
My appreciation of the importance of local governance always gets a boost after a town meeting. I am always grateful to those who can attend and participate in our open town meeting proceedings. I love seeing the community gather to conduct the business needed to run the town and hearing residents debate the issues at hand. Five of the seventeen articles were citizen petition articles. The ability to shape public policy and the character of our community lies in the hands of every registered voter.
Of course, a lot of work leads up to a successful Annual Town Meeting. The Finance Committee and Select Board spend months developing the proposed budgets that voters ultimately must review, modify if desired, and approve. Moderator Alan Wilson goes through a detailed process researching the legal framework for each article and has at the ready responses to possible questions that might arise. He is well versed in the rules and procedures that govern town meetings and conducts our meetings in a very professional and accessible manner. Town Clerk Dianne Bucco proved to be a quick study and quickly got up to speed on all the logistical details of how we run our meetings, including becoming well versed in how to operate the voting “clickers”. She and her crew of volunteers were flawless in their execution. Department leaders put together credible budgets that were well received by voters.
Of course, town meetings are in some ways the culmination of our public debates and decision-making processes. Throughout the year various boards and committees are holding public meetings and taking input from residents. One of the silver linings of the COVID pandemic is the use of virtual meeting software that makes it very easy for residents to sign into meetings. We will be setting up our meeting room in Town Hall to be able to host hybrid meetings whereby board and committee members can attend in person and residents can choose to attend virtually or in person.
Upcoming meetings that are worth highlighting include next week’s forum on affordable housing expansion options through a partnership between the Manchester Housing Authority and the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust (MHA and MAHT). The forum will focus on how we might upgrade and expand current MHA properties (The Plains, Newport Park, and the family units on Loading Place Road) as well as the possibility of redeveloping the DPW parcel off Pleasant Street. The forum, jointly sponsored by the MHA and the MAHT, is designed to garner public input on the conceptual plans. The project represents one of our most viable prospects for expanding affordable housing in town. At the recent Annual Town Meeting, Article 12 seeking support for this type of approach was overwhelmingly approved.
The forum is scheduled to take place in person at the Middle High School cafeteria next Tuesday evening, 6/29, beginning at 6:30PM.
Later in July, on the 19th, the Selectmen will be hosting another public workshop on the question of how best to provide public safety dispatch services. Information regarding our options can be found on the Town’s web site. Both the Selectmen and the Finance Committee are working through various scenarios as they contemplate how to ensure we are providing the services we need as effectively and efficiently as possible. The goal is to have a clear direction come the fall when we will start developing the FY23 budget as which option we pick will impact future budgets (yes, the yearly cyclic budget process roles along!)
All this talk about citizen engagement and making important decisions effecting town operations stimulate you own interest in getting more involved? There are numerous board and committee vacancies that need new volunteers. Openings are posted on the Town web site as well as the board/committee application forms.
Town governance is alive and well because of active citizen engagement. Thank you for carrying enough to do you part.