“We Have An Important Story To Tell”

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

I believe in municipal government.

Those of us who serve as elected officials, municipal employees or volunteers know what we do can be difficult. But we do it because we believe in the value of providing municipal services that people need. We do it because local government can help provide a sense of community that our citizens and businesses rely upon, and even come to cherish.

Our calling is getting even tougher these days. The deep and prolonged economic downturn and the State budget situation make these particularly challenging times. But as municipal officials we will do what local leaders in Maine have done for years: Our very best to get the job done, and get it done well.

In a way, high expectations are one of the hurdles we face. Our citizens expect us to serve them quickly and well – to plow the roads when it snows, to respond to fire and ambulance calls, to keep their municipal services available, while also keeping their tax rates in check.

We perform our services with great transparency. Citizens have access to many of our meetings, documents, discussions and even e-mails. As an example, the Maine Municipal Association – like many of our member municipalities – recently received and complied with a Freedom of Access request from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank that has analyzed state government salaries, among many other items.

The MMA wants to work with municipal officials to help us tell our stories. After all, we have an important stories to tell – to citizens, to businesses, to civic organizations, to our legislators, to our Governor (and to those who aspire to that office) and to the media.

• We are resourceful, accountable and thrifty. There are numerous and long-standing examples of collaboration and cooperation among municipalities.

• We know that one size does not fit all. What works in an urban or suburban area might be very different from what’s best in a sparsely populated, rural area. Over the years, we’ve examined our tasks, such as maintaining roads or assessing properties, and we have made choices that make sense for the communities that we serve.

• Sometimes, we maintain these services with municipal employees. But often, when it makes more sense, we contract with private firms or we team up with other towns.

During these difficult economic times, we’ll continue to look for efficiencies, but we need to point out what we’ve already done. That’s where you come in. Starting now, we’re asking you to share your stories and provide examples. Please share your examples and stories with Eric Conrad, our Director of Communication and Educational Services, at econrad@memun.org. Or you can call: 207-623-8428.

I believe in local government and I know you do, too. It’s important to let our citizens know that the government that’s closest to the people – municipal government – provides critical services, tailored to our communities and often in the most cost-effective way.