Time flies

June 30th marks the end of the last quarter of FY08 and the end of my first quarter on the Select Board.  How am I doing and what have I learned?

  My posts on this site have been less timely and much less frequent than I had intended.  Definitely need to work on that.  The meeting summaries need to be shorter so they are less daunting to write, and I can’t let a still-pending summary stand in the way of posting something else. 

  Town Meeting was tough.  That’s a lot of meetings, a lot of prep time, and a funny way to start off as a new Select Board member.  Some have suggested that fall elections would allow new SB members time to get up to speed, and let them participate in the budget process, instead of just supporting or opposing a budget that is essentially done.  There are probably good reasons not to do that (and it requires the approval of the State legislature to make such a switch,) but the concept has its merits. 

  I do miss writing the Town Meeting blog.  That was fun and cathartic, and just not possible to do from this position.  (And actually, I miss the historic record it created – except for the final session of fall ‘07 which I never wrote up, I know, I know – it was nice to have some context to refer back to for the issues and the votes.)  Too bad, because there were some real blog-worthy moments this spring. 

  Finding the appropriate voice, tone and content for writing about SB issues is partially why I have written less here than I might have anticipated.  Above all, I have to keep in mind that serving the town well requires true collaboration by the Select Board, and public criticism (not to mention snarkiness) from a colleague does not lend itself to good collaboration.  Pity my inner pundit.  Also, issues are always evolving, so I wouldn’t want to mess up something that might simply need to play itself out.  It’s a balancing act.  But being constructive in a meeting requires not being destructive outside of a meeting.  

  Meetings have felt pretty constructive. I’m pleased with how the parade issue has shaped up.  I’m happy to see issues being referred to appropriate committees for their study and recommendations.  I’ve really appreciated the responsiveness of the Town Manager when asked for updates and more information than has previously been the norm.  Expect to see a lot more of that.  What he does is the real guts of how the Town is being run, and for the Select Board and the community to know more about that and to help guide it is among my top priorities. 

  I was Vice Chair in June, which was really fortunate for me, timing-wise.  I was glad to be able to help shape the post-Town Meeting agendas, establishing some foundation for how this newly-composed body would start off its regular work together.  And I was glad to have the opportunity in the agenda setting meetings to work closely with Gerry, whom I had not dealt with much previously.  Because I have been a vocal critic of the SB, he would understandably have been wary of me.  But I think we worked very well together and I’m glad to start this off with him knowing that I am reasonably reasonable.  At least, I hope that was the result. 

  An unfortunate realization:  it’s hard to have a short meeting.  You want to deal with all this stuff, and it all takes longer than you anticipate, and before you know it, it’s 9:30.  I guess my sense of how long things take will become better calibrated with more experience.

  The MMA training session for new Select Board members that Diana and I went to was pretty good.  A little repetitive on current legislative stuff, and a little sparse on Open Meeting Law stuff, but pretty good.  It was fun to go there and back together, along with “Miss Daisy” – Diana’s GPS that speaks directions to you as you drive.

  I am excited about the liaisonships to other boards and committees.  I have some good ones, and I can tell already that I will learn a ton from them.  I am also looking forward to a discussion (part of my personal “role of the Select Board” obsession) about what we as a body expect/want from these positions, and how liaisons are to conduct themselves.  Do you observe or do you participate?  How much participation is OK?  If you participate, are you expressing an individual viewpoint, or are you representing (or assumed to be representing) the Select Board’s viewpoint?  And how does relevant information flow to or from the Select Board? 

If all this is unbearably fascinating to you – you’re in luck!  With Anne resigning her seat as of September 1st, there will be a special election on September 16th for our newest SBer.  And if you choose to run, you’d better enjoy campaigning, because the term for that seat expires next spring, and it will need to be won anew.      

Thanks for paying attention!  And feedback is always welcomed and appreciated, by e-mail and comment.  


Eva Schiffer said:

About SB liaisons:

The hardest -- but important -- part of the job is to resist participating in the substance of the discussion.

Basically, I think it's important for the liaison NOT TO ACT LIKE A COMMITTEE MEMBER (which is what you'd be doing by claiming to express only your own individual point of view). It is equally important not to use your position as a SB member to influence the outcome of the committee's recommendations (which you'd be doing because, all disclaimers notwithstanding, a SB liaison is a SB member -- that's the only reason why you're there to begin with!!). After all, most committees make -- supposedly indepently derived -- recommendations to the SB; what would be the point of that if a SB member had helped determine those same recommendations? The liaison's function should be to provide guidance and information about process, to offer to obtain information that the committee needs or requests in order to help it form its recommendations, and to keep the SB apprised of things of significance that are being discussed or have been decided by a given committee to which you are liaison. In all of this, the liaison should work closely not only with the chair but also with the staff liaison.

About 2004, the then SB approved a set of guidelines for SB liaisons. You may want to suggest that they be reviewed to get your discussion started.

Thanks Eva. I will try to come up with those guidelines. I am pressing for role of the SB/role of liaison discussions because I think it is important for us all to have the same understandings and expectations, so that we aren't each interpreting our position in entirely different ways. What might seem sensible and obvious to one person might seem entirely the opposite to another.

We need to find existing policies and guidelines, as Alisa recommended at the 6/23 meeting, and we need to codify new ones going forward. And we need to inform existing and new SB members about them. As a new member of the Council on Aging, I received a big helpful information packet. New Select Board members get a handbook from the Mass Municipal Association, but nothing specific to Amherst, and that is really necessary.

Eva Schiffer said:

I totally agree on the need for a common understanding, and for codification. It would not only serve to ensure continuity as members come and go, but also reduce the (perceived) need to reinvent the wheel.



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