Two weeks

First impressions as a Select Board rookie…

Location, location:  I can definitely hear better at the desks than I could at the back of the room under the speaker.  But the chairs in the back are way more comfortable, and that makes a big difference when you’re sitting there for a few hours. 

Stenography:  Still fighting my instinct to write down every word spoken during the meetings.  Listening to each other and the audience is a big part of what the Select Board does, and even though I am listening when I’m writing, it wouldn’t feel that way to the person speaking, so I’m trying to be mindful of that – while still getting the notes that I need.

The big squeeze:  I am hyper-concerned about doing anything that might possibly be construed as “throwing my weight around.”   I worry that something simple like alerting the DPW to a pothole or crosswalk issue might be prioritized differently because it is coming from a Select Board member.  Gotta find the right balance between exerting undue influence and renouncing ordinary rights.    Or maybe I’ll create an alias. 

Point and stare:  Speaking of aliases, by far the weirdest thing about this whole experience is getting used to the fact that lots of people I don’t know now know me.  Must be more careful about gossiping in public – or doing anything gossip-worthy. 

Better safe than sorry:  Another weird thing is Open Meeting Law.  I was thinking I would go to the CPAC meeting last night, but if two or more other Select Board members were there, we’d be in violation.  So who leaves?  The third arrival?  The one with the least seniority?  What if it were such a big meeting that we didn’t realize we had a quorum in attendance?  It’s ridiculous, especially since all of us could separately watch a televised meeting, but couldn’t all attend that same meeting.  Fortunately, there are some efforts in the State Legislature to try to update this well-intentioned but flawed law.  I didn’t go to the meeting, but Jonathan did.  Can you violate OML by proxy?

Talking it out:  I’m looking forward to having the Fourth of July parade on the agenda – this topic needs the sunshine of public discussion.  The conversation about the library’s revolving fund was perplexing.  I found the Town Manager’s response about waiting for the Trustees to decide what they want to do very unsatisfying.  This was such a big deal last spring, and the issue is complicated – how could there not have been a dialogue about this much sooner than now? 

The power, the glory:  Yep, I’ve got Select Board business cards, a parking pass and the security code for Town Hall.  All I need now is that gadget that controls the stop lights for emergency vehicles.  And an entourage.  Definitely need an entourage.


Eva Schiffer said:

Stephanie, bless you for worrying about all the right things.

The Big Squeeze is a very big one. I think the best way to resolve it is just to tell people, very clearly and convincingly, that you don't want special treatment; you're just alerting them to a problem, for them to deal with according to their schedule and priorities. Your manner and tone will make a very big difference. (I once became aware that parking enforcement officers recognized my car and didn't give me tickets. I insisted they do, and they have ever since, and we're still friends.) But -- like it or not -- you're not just a citzen any more. The safer -- and correcter -- way is to channel everything through the Town Manager, making it equally clear to him that you don't want him to throw your weight around. The reason why this is the correct way is that he is responsible for deciding what staff should be spending their time on -- not five separate SB members.

Better safe than sorry: So long as SB members just sit with their mouths firmly shut, they're just audience. But the presence of SB members is definitely noticed, and what you should worry about is the appearance of exerting influence or pressure on committee deliberations. For that reason, even when there is no SB quorum present, I consider it respectful of the committee process to refrain from speaking unless asked, or to ask a brief question. The SB liaison to a committee is much freer to participate in the discussion, but should also try to stick to providing process guidance and relevant information, or offers to help get such information -- and refrain from acting like a committee member.

Talking it out: The Trustees had clearly been thinking of the revolving fund all along as a way to keep the fines and increase their resources. I think that until the recent night of their presentation of the article to the Finance Committee, it just hadn't occurred to them that the money had to come FROM somewhere. It should have. So now they're thinking through all the implications, and that's good.

cjh said:

Just to follow up on Eva's comment:

Even though I'm the rookie trustee, I know the trustees had been aware for quite a while that the Finance Committee, at least, had no desire to come up with a budget that let us keep the fines without reducing our other funding by an equivalent amount!

Even if the trustees accept that that is the political reality, the details of how a revolving fund would work still seem to me to be fuzzy, right down to the basic question of whether a revolving fund truly is the only way to do keep the fines. But I don't think anyone had heard Larry's proposal that (some) money raised above the amount allocated to the fund could arranged to be returned to the library rather than simply added to the Town's coffers.

So, as you said, we sure are thinking through all the implications as we currently understand them!

Eva Schiffer said:

Thanks, cjh: I missed Larry's comment, which I find puzzling. Just who would "arrange" that?

cjh said:


I'm not sure how that would be arranged. It may be a "gentleman's agreement" that we would be promised half the excess in addition to the regular general funds. Though if that were true I'd be worried that the knowledge that, say, an extra $5000 were available to the library would affect in some way the decision of what amount gets allocated in the regular budget.

Maybe there's no reason to worry -- I haven't watched a full budget cycle yet.



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