Community Engagement Team Report

The Community Engagement Team (CET) in my town of Cambridge, Vermont, presented its report to the selectboard at the board’s regular meeting on November 20. Click here to read the CET’s report.

In this post, I review the CET’s mission and how they went about their work.

In the next three posts (links below), I summarize and discuss the CET’s recommendations.

The selectboard created the seven-member CET on April 3, 2017, as a result of lively discussions and a nonbinding resolution at town meeting on March 7. (I am on both the selectboard and the CET.) The CET’s mission was to conduct research and issue recommendations on the following specific questions:

    • Should town meeting be held on a different day of the week or different time of day or both?
    • Should issues that are currently decided by a vote in town meeting (following an opportunity for discussion) instead be decided by Australian ballot?
    • Should the selectboard be increased from three to five persons?
    • Should the CET be established as a long-term committee and reconsider its mission following the issuance of its report?

The CET was not limited to those questions if it wished to make additional recommendations. The CET was also asked to consider the general question: What can the town do to reduce barriers to and facilitate more engagement by all citizens in substantive town affairs and town meetings?

The CET began by reviewing if any of those questions had been considered in Cambridge before. Background document here. The CET reviewed what other towns had done regarding similar initiatives. Background document here.

The CET read the book All Those In Favor: Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community by Susan Clark and Frank Bryan. Susan Clark is the town moderator in Middlesex. Frank Bryan is a UVM professor emeritus of political science. Professor Bryan is well known for his research about town meetings; see his 2004 book Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works.

Susan Clark attended a meeting of the CET and was very helpful.

The CET created and conducted a survey from June 8 through July 22. The survey was advertised on Front Porch Forum and Facebook. The survey was online, but Kevin Whitcavitch also helped citizens complete the survey on paper, which CET members then entered into the online survey. There were 261 responses. The results were summarized on Front Porch Forum on July 26 and discussed in more detail in the report to the selectboard.

The selectboard and the CET encouraged public participation, and the following members of the public attended one or more CET meetings: Stearns Allen, Jon LaRochelle, Tami Wuestenberg, Kevin Whitcavitch, Jerry Cole, Jan Sander. Town Moderator Jerry Cole brought into our discussions (via emails and documents) the expertise of Ed Chase, the town moderator in Westford and the person who the Vermont League of Cities and Towns uses to conduct town moderator training. Full disclosure: Jerry Cole is my brother-in-law.

All of the above activities and resources informed many good discussions by the CET. The full CET met 12 times, and there were additional discussions by subgroups. I want to thank the hard work of everyone on the CET: Tyler Machia, Chair; Meredith Vaughn, Clerk; Karen Denniston; Krista Huling (also a Justice of the Peace); Town Clerk/Treasurer Mark Schilling; and Mark Stebbins (also chair of the school board for Cambridge Elementary School). I especially commend Tyler and Meredith, the youngest members of the CET, for their leadership: creating agendas, scheduling and running meetings, generally keeping us on track and moving forward, taking minutes, writing the report, and presenting the CET’s report to the selectboard.

The selectboard will now take the recommendations of the CET into consideration. I summarize and discuss those recommendations in the next three blog posts.

This is part of a series of four related blog posts:

1. Community Engagement Team Report (this post)

2. CET Recommendations – Assigned Questions

3. CET Recommendations – Town Meeting

4. CET Recommendations – Town Administrator

Please refer to the full report at the link in the first paragraph above. My posts are my own views, and do not necessarily represent the views of either the CET or the selectboard.

Reference links:

CET documents, including meeting agendas and minutes, are on the town’s website in the Document Center under Other Documents

Prior posts on this blog related to this topic:

Town Meeting Thoughts (March 2017, posted after town meeting)

Learning About Government (April 2017, noted the creation of the CET)

Local Governance in the News (October 2017, noted a news article about the CET)

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