(from Maine Townsman, December 1998)
By Jo Josephson, Staff Writer
For the past six years, the Maine Municipal Association has looked to its membership for assistance in evaluating the annual convention. This year was no different, as 12 municipal officials from around the state interviewed 115 convention-goers, asking them what they thought about the keynote speaker, the gubernatorial debate, the two-day convention experiment, the general sessions and much more. The results of the questionnaires were tallied and the team met on November 10 for a half-day to discuss the survey findings and share their own thoughts on what worked and did not work. What follows is a summary of the recommendations that will be taken up by the Executive Committee later this month and by those planning the 1999 MMA Convention early next year.
The Evaluation team made the following four basic recommendations:
To attract elected officials continue group discounts for another year but also consider a special half-day session for elected officials.
Make more efficient use of the two-day convention.
Support Portlands efforts to develop a convention center.
Provide more opportunities to interact informally and more time to ask questions during workshops.
Attendance at convention by selectmen and councilors is low due to the fact that most also have full-time jobs. In the belief that the experience is a valuable one, convention planners look for ways to increase their attendance. Last years evaluation team proposed a monetary incentive, offering a group discount on the registration fee.
While the rebate was given to 59 percent of the officials attending, representing 104 officials from 41 municipalities large and small, it did not increase the groups attendance. This year, only eight percent of the elected officials statewide attended convention and that number is down from 1995 when the convention was last held in Augusta when 12 percent of the elected officials statewide attended. This year elected officials made up about 19 percent of the municipal attendees at convention; in 1995, they made up 23 percent.
Despite the low turnout, but given the fact that only a third of those responding to the survey said they were aware of it and 89 percent said it was a good idea, the evaluation team recommended that the offer be continued another year. The team also recommended that the offerings for elected officials be increased and improved and that the scheduling be more accommodating. Some suggested developing a "leadership institute"; some suggested that an afternoon, early evening block of time be set aside for elected officials at the beginning of convention.
Over the years, those attending convention have remarked on the difficulty of "getting out of the office" for the traditional two and one-half day convention. Last year, based on survey results, the evaluation team proposed that the MMA experiment with a two-day convention in Augusta. Last year, when the idea was first proposed, 46 percent of those surveyed said it was a good idea; this year, 85 percent said it was a good idea.
But support for the idea did not mean it was without its critics. Some said the planners did not make efficient use of the two days; others said too much was crammed into the time available; and others said there was little opportunity for networking, their primary reason for attending convention.
A number of recommendations were made by the team including one that would have a buffet luncheon both days that allowed for facilitated roundtable discussions on specific subjects. Another would spread the affiliate group programs evenly over both days. Another would have the banquet on the first evening of the two-day convention.
As in previous years, those surveyed continued to argue for one facility over another; be it Bangor, Augusta or Portland each has its strengths and weaknesses. While the majority appears to favor Augustas central location and its spacious exhibit area and meeting rooms, the current policy of the MMAs Executive Committee is to rotate the convention between the three cities. As such, the committee recommended the MMA formally support efforts by Portland to develop a convention center to better accommodate not only MMAs convention needs but those of others as well. Last year, the team recommended that Bangor be apprised of the noise problems at their facility.
Those responding to the survey constituted 12 percent of those attending convention; managers and administrators made up the largest group of survey respondents (22 percent)
Twenty-seven percent of those responding to the survey attended convention for only one day.
While we did well overall, the most frequent rating was 8 on a scale of 1-10 (excellent), we didnt match last years ratings. Last year 32 percent rated it 9 or 10; this year only 20 percent gave it such a rating.
Only 42 percent of the respondents heard the Keynote Speaker; 58 percent who did hear the speaker said he was "excellent" (10). Fifty-six percent of the respondents said they did not hear the Gubernatorial Forum; 70 percent of them who did, said it met their expectations.
MMA would like to thank the members of the Convention Evaluation Team: Bob Brandenstein, Buxton; Lloyd Coombs, Woolwich; John Edgecomb, Mapleton; Anne Gregory, Falmouth; Johanna Hammond, Freeport; Dana Lee, Mechanic Falls; Kelly Lombardi, Roque Bluffs; Ruth Marden, Livermore Falls; Kathy Montejo, Bath; Susan Mooney, South Portland; Delaine Nye, Augusta; Tom Stevens, Presque Isle.