Time to Take a Stand - A Message From MMA

(from Maine Townsman, June 2010)
by John Sylvester, MMA President, Selectman, Town of Alfred

John Sylvester No town is an island.

Town officers and officials whose philosophies and practices “let the world go by” hurt not only themselves but also their neighboring towns and municipal government across the State.

By our very nature, most of us are introverts, working with heads down, hands on the oars, rowing tirelessly against the tide. We are each a reflection of the people who elect or appoint us. A huge majority of us care deeply about our town and the people we represent.

With head bowed and eyes nearly always on the ground, our work gets done, our towns function and we hide our pride and satisfaction for accomplishment earned and jobs well done. We allow others to define us, dismiss us, decide for us, scoff at us and generally tell us where it is at.

Our reward for our retiring nature over the last five to eight years includes hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue cuts and increased program costs pushed down on us by the Governor and the Legislature. Our reward further includes state administrators, opinion makers and other defined experts who paint local government as wasteful, inefficient, self-serving and generally not worth “a bucket of spit.”

I have listened to hundreds of you express concerns about the treatment we receive, the anger it causes and the lack of trust for state government in general.

Isn’t it time to change this dynamic? Yes it is.

It is time to look people in the eye and tell them what we do every day. It is time to share our thousands of successful examples of working with each other – not just recently, but for generations.

It is time to show with our many examples that we are prudent, efficient, resourceful, successful problem solvers who do more with less year after year.

It is time to channel the anger and frustration and do something that doesn’t come naturally to us – that is, to promote the dependable, efficient and high-quality services that local government provides on a daily basis.

Last December, one of the gubernatorial candidates asked me, “What do you see as the greatest challenge facing local government?”

“Establishing a solid, working relationship with the new Governor and Legislature, working together to help the people of Maine”, I replied.

Recently a second candidate for governor responded to my question about working together, letting me know that “we are all in this together” and “those of us in Augusta had no choice but to push down state obligations to the municipalities.” Years ago a friend, then serving in the Legislature, told me that it didn’t matter which party controlled the Blaine House or the House and Senate. Every Governor, he said to me, gets 90 percent of his (or, possibly, her) agenda passed year after year.

So what is the action plan?

When the primary election results are available, Maine Municipal Association will invite the gubernatorial party winners and an independent or three to meet one on one with the Executive Committee to respond to specific questions. We expect to post these video-recorded sessions on the Maine Municipal Association website. Any city or town can obtain that material and use it locally.

So, get to know these candidates. Learn how each of them plans to involve local government in helping to solve Maine’s problems.

Take a stand and let your friends and neighbors know your reasoned thoughts on each candidate. Schedule regional sessions with other town’s officers and officials to hear from candidates for Governor, the Senate and House. Learn how seriously candidates for state office consider the challenges facing cities and towns, what your ideas are to help and what you expect from them if they are elected.

Share the results of these conversations on your websites, in your town newsletters, at meetings and by other means.

There is conversation in Augusta now that a new state budget shortfall of $1 billion may occur. If that is accurate, hundreds of millions more in cuts and costs will be pushed down to municipalities.

There are no town islands in 2010. Heads down, eyes on the ground, working tirelessly to just hold it together is no longer enough. Now is the time to lift our heads up, look people in the eye and take a seat at the table.

I’m there. I’ll be looking forward to shaking your hand as we join together in letting Augusta’s elected and appointed officers and officials know and understand that, in order to solve our state’s problems, we need to collectively draw upon all of our wisdom and strength.