The State of the Association

(from Maine Townsman, November 2007)
By Chris Lockwood, Executive Director, MMA

As I began my “State of the Association” remarks at the Annual Business Meeting during the MMA Convention, I noted that 2007 is the 20th anniversary of the MMA Property & Casualty Pool program.  I had a two-fold purpose in noting this special occasion.  First:  to celebrate the growth of the P&C program from 14 initial members in 1987 to 423 participating entities in 2007.  Second:  to illustrate MMA’s on-going commitment to assist our members in meeting changing needs.

In the mid-1980’s, a number of municipal governments in Maine found themselves in a dire predicament.  They were informed that their premiums for property and liability insurance would be doubling or tripling, or in a few cases, that they would have no liability insurance coverage at all, due to a cyclical tightening of the national insurance market.  This had much more to do with events in other parts of the country, but nonetheless resulted in a serious problem for municipalities in Maine.  As a result, municipal officials called upon MMA to put together a group self insurance program to provide long term stability for property and casualty insurance geared to municipal operations and exposures.  MMA was successful in securing enactment of legislation authorizing the formation of public entity property and casualty pools and retaining the protections of the Maine Tort Claims Act. 

Membership Survey and front porch meetings

The start-up and growth of the P&C Pool is reflective of MMA’s commitment to our core mission - to provide professional services to local governments throughout Maine and to advocate their common interests at the state and national levels.  Each year the MMA Executive Committee and Management Group update MMA’s Strategic & Business Plan to focus on our core services and programs and to identify key areas warranting particular attention.  We utilized the 2006 Membership Survey and the series of 18 regional “Front Porch” meetings earlier this year to identify new or emerging needs and to obtain feedback on MMA’s programs and services.

Overall, the Membership Survey and Front Porch meetings indicated our service program is largely on the mark and that our members value MMA’s commitment to high quality service, with a personal touch.  We received positive feedback regarding efforts to increase efficiencies through the use of electronic communications and electronic transactions, while recognizing the importance of maintaining access for members who do not have these capabilities. 

We identified several areas in which changes were warranted.  One of the most significant areas involved the annual MMA convention.  In the face of declining attendance over the past several years, we reached out to obtain information on the causes and suggestions for possible changes.  As a result, we retooled the 2007 convention, condensing it from 2 ½ to 1 ½ days and incorporating a number of program changes.  The attendance at this year’s convention increased and we received overall positive evaluations and constructive suggestions for refinements to next year’s program.

Looking ahead

The 2-day September meeting of the MMA Executive Committee focused on the following issues emerging from the Membership Survey and Front Porch meetings, as well as two organizational issues studied in-depth by the MMA Strategic & Finance Committee:

Municipal financial management – The Membership Survey indicated a need among certain municipalities for technical assistance and training on a variety of municipal finance issues (e.g., L.D. 1 calculations and compliance, budgeting, sound financial management practices, etc.).  MMA will be exploring a pilot project to provide training and technical assistance in 2008.

Back office applications – As the terminology “back office” suggests, these computer membership database and financial management software applications are behind the scenes, but are crucial to MMA’s operations.  MMA’s current back office systems are outdated, resulting in a loss of efficiency.  The Executive Committee has directed MMA management to pursue replacing the current back office systems with new technologies and applications.

Citizen education – MMA’s efforts related to “citizen education” have been intermittent over the years and have not been integrated as an on-going MMA programmatic commitment.  The Executive Committee moved to form a working group to develop a cohesive strategy related to citizen education to inform citizens about municipal government (e.g., benefits of municipal services, the accountability of municipal governments, strides to achieve efficiencies in the delivery of local and regional services, etc.).

MMA physical space needs – As MMA has responded to increased participation and growth, particularly in the group self insurance programs such as the P & C Pool and Health Trust, it has been necessary to convert meeting room space into office space.  This has resulted in a severely reduced capacity for the MMA building to accommodate meetings, such as the MMA Legislative Policy Committee and various MMA affiliate groups.  After an in-depth review of needs and various options, the Executive Committee has directed MMA management to explore a possible building addition project.

In closing my remarks at the annual business meeting, I reported that the overall State of the Association is sound, as reflected in various indicators such as our financial position, membership levels, and the results of the Membership Survey and front porch meetings.  As we face the challenges ahead, we want to thank you, our members, for your continuing support and participation.