The five board members convened for their annual goal-setting meeting late Monday afternoon, ready to consider programs and projects listed under four categories.
But before starting their review, several board members independently raised the issue of improving communication.
After some back-and-forth on how best to incorporate the additional goal within their process, board members agreed with Margot Fleischman’s suggestion: a separate category, labeled “public engagement.”
And the highest priority emerging from the five elements under that heading was public accessibility within meetings. “I think that’s very pressing,” commented board member Shawn Hanegan.
“This year the community wants us to focus on building bridges,” remarked member Bopha Malone.
“There’s some perception that we are not communicating,” said Hanegan, whose first-time candidacy for the board last winter included his intention to respectfully listen to all sides on issues.
Monday he asked rhetorically, “How do we solicit more input? How do we get a sense of what people are saying?” His colleague Ed Pierce added, “How can it be more inviting for people to engage?”
One practice Hanegan introduced for consideration was a structural change in public comment at board meetings. The Select Board sets aside time at the start of each meeting for comments on agenda items. Hanegan noted the Planning Board accepts comments as they come up during meetings.
Ranked behind public access in the Select Board’s prioritization was town meeting accessibility, a topic including scheduling as well as presentation details. Then came ongoing training for staff and committee and board members in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Also listed under the category of public engagement was updating the town website and a possible community survey. “All this has to be in the context of realistic demands on staff,” Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell reminded.
“Why not issue a survey to explore what issues you want us to communicate?” Hanegan proposed.
Several years ago the town participated in a couple of national surveys that allowed for a subset of localized questions. Town staff will look into whether that program still exists. Since there is no budget for a survey this fiscal year, the suggestion was placed at the lowest priority.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763