Local Self-Governance supports Community Health.
People largely do not realize that there are amazing rights (local governance) in place here in the great State of Maine, that these rights are often taken for granted, and that they exist solely for community benefit. It affords the ability for residents to manage their own community, to convey ideas and concerns to town officials, or to develop ideas as a town official (or volunteer) through both hands-on and face-to-face interaction.
Towns are increasingly in need of volunteers to serve on a number of municipal boards and committees. This need largely came about as a result of an accelerating succession gap, an ‘age bubble’ that occurred from limited participation of a generation in the 1990’s-2000’s (a demographic that was focused on development and economic activity of the time (tech and housing booms) located away from our rural communities in large urban and suburban centers).
Several outcomes from this are that:
Many towns throughout this state currently have unmanaged and dated rural town designs that no longer provide a space for local economic health or community cohesion, and
There are too few people to properly manage many of our small rural towns.
In order to remain healthy, town designs (ordinances, charters, by-laws, fees & insurances, etc.) need constant updating to adjust for the rapid changes in:
State and Federal laws,
Advancements in production technologies,
New and unique industries and business models, and
The socio-economic landscapes, both regionally and internationally.
On average, there are four to five (4-5) vacancies in town government positions (elected, appointed, committees, commissions, etc.) each year. If you are interested, go to your town office and ask them what seats are unfilled, let them know you would like to help, and request information on what you need to do to get involved.
Depending on your town, there may or may not be these general positions or boards (as all towns are not the same):
Select Board-Town Manager-Mayor Overall manager-types of municipalities
Code Enforcement Officer Review of development, enforcement and evaluation of regulations and ordinance
Planning Board Review of development compared to town design ordinances and evaluation of town design
Appeals or Zoning Board Ruling on disagreements between development and either town administrators or enforcers
Comprehensive Planning Committee Brainstorming on a Long-Term Vision for a town
Economic Development Committee Brainstorming on ideas to improve local economic health
Building/Dam/Mill/Road Committees Brainstorming on large types of projects
Charter Committee Brainstorming on Charter crafting and language
Saco River Corridor Commission Water quality monitoring and evaluation of development that occurs near the Saco River
Conservation Commission Support protection of the town environment and water quality, develop community projects, and manage grants, gifts, and lands on behalf of town.
Budget Committee Evaluating yearly budget and allocation of budget to services
School Board Brainstorming on school district issues and evaluating school district budgeting
These volunteer vacancies in our rural towns include many of the positions above that discuss, develop, or refine town designs and assure uses and economics which compliment regional culture and assets. These positions are there specifically for individuals in the community to be involved in the future of their own respective towns, and afford the ability for them to interact on a one-on-one manner with the community and with other officials.
To help your town, it is very important to first understand that the health of any one individual service is dependent upon all of the other town services as a whole.
If your town is struggling economically or too few are getting involved, it is likely that the town design is preventing economic health and participation and should be studied to identify the problem areas.
If a specific problem has lingered for a long time in your town, it is likely that the town design is causing the problem and it should be studied.
It may be reasonable to suggest that a committee be created that does not currently exist, or to expand an existing committee to open up for more participation. The town design should be studied and amended to create that committee or to open up more participation (ie. Moving toward elections rather than appointments or increasing the number of committee positions). Some of the most successfully run small rural towns in Maine understand that it takes many active committees to keep a town running smoothly.
Any age registered voter is welcome to participate in town boards and committees. As an example, there are currently young officials (town managers, selectboard members, code officer/building inspector) in Camden, Holden, Belfast, and Lincolnville alone that have ages ranging from 26 to 34 years old.
Even if a position is currently filled by an elected official, any community resident believing they have skills, experience, and ideas to better help out the community should campaign to run for those positions. No elected seat is ever guaranteed or set aside for any current official. Competition is a healthy, necessary, and simple way to express new ideas and to engage a community.
To coherently plan for a healthy future, the individuals and town governments need to openly discuss the issues of today and interact in a positive and meaningful manner. This is largely achieved through choosing to be involved by volunteering to serve your town on a committee/commission or running a campaign to be elected to a particular board.
By Dan Davis