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Canton Looks to Boost Participation in Boards, Commissions

The town of Canton is seeking volunteers interested in serving on its various boards and commissions. 

In all, the town has 37 agencies ranging from groups that regulate land use to state and local initiatives that include a town representative. Volunteers are key to the process, officials said. 

"It really is what keeps local government grounded,” Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said at the recent annual town meeting. 

Town officials said there have been challenges in completely filling the groups, which often include full and alternate members. There is about a 19 percent vacancy rate. 

Skinner said many residents hesitate to step forward but are generally glad they did.  

"Most people who sign up and get involve stay involved," he said. "It really is a very rewarding experience." 

The topic generated a fair amount of discussion at the meeting from residents. Some felt civic service has diminished while others said people do volunteer but often with other organizations, youth sports teams or parent groups. 

Long-time volunteer David Sinish agreed that service was rewarding but said he felt the town could do more to recruit, train and retain volunteers. 

Sinish also lamented the lack of participation in the meeting itself and he and others noted that everyone there was involved in some way. 

"I think we’re kind of preaching to the choir tonight," he said. 

Some town officials said they have been actively recruiting. Selectman Steve Roberto, who suggested the topic, said he's been very active in asking people to serve.  

"For four years I have been reaching out," he said, adding that the discussion was an attempt to bring some more exposure to the issue. 

Town officials said they routinely reach out at Sam Collins Day, other events, word of mouth and more. 

"We're trying," Skinner said. 

First Selectman Richard Barlow also addressed a concern that some volunteers have been passed over for reappointment in recent years.  

Barlow said many factors could come into consideration, including attendance and input from the public. 

"We are very sensitive to the balance on commissions," he said. "We evaluate those up for reappointment." 

Much of that change has come in the area of land use. Challenged on the idea of offering suggestions and guidance before deciding not to reappoint, Barlow said it's a challenge since selectman cannot influence land-use decisions. 

"We can’t sit back and critique them," he said. "It’s a little hard to have a critique and evaluation process."

Officials did say that training is offered to people in such positions, where knowledge of regulations is necessary. 

Officials added that the vast majority of appointees are reappointed with little fanfare.  

"On balance we routinely reappoint people," Barlow said. 

See attached pdf for more information and contacts.  

 

 

Lowell Humphrey January 22, 2014 at 04:01 AM
As a member of the BOS I want to clarify that decisions to jettison committee members, who are willing to continue serving, are not being made at our public meetings. Their fate is decided privately during a majority party 'caucus' at someone's kitchen table and then executed by the First Selectman simply not placing their name on the agenda for reappointment. I have no question such shenanigans dissuade folks from volunteering.
Steve Roberto January 22, 2014 at 10:38 AM
Very nice Mr Humphrey… You did not choose to discuss these concerns when I asked to discuss this topic at the Annual Town Meeting. You did not attend the Annual Town Meeting like all of the other Selectman. I do not see you when I am spending countless hours at the many other Town board meetings I attend each month to clearly understand what is going on. But you assume there must be some kind of conspiracy. As opposed to accusing people of shenanigans perhaps you'd like to discuss your concerns more professionally, in an appropriate venue like our BOS meeting tonight. Respectfully, Steve Roberto
Lowell Humphrey January 22, 2014 at 11:45 AM
Steve. I would note you are not disputing my factual statement as to how the decisions are made. I have raised my concern in our meetings and have been told precisely that the decisions are based on your caucus. I even got the Town Attorney opinion which by my reading basically said because the practice of not bringing a willing person forward for reappointment wasn't specifically prohibited it wasn't a Charter violation as far as your suggesting it as a Town Meeting topic lets just say I suppressed my amusement at the time. as to your laudable giving of your time I salute you and do my best to serve also, perhaps in other venues then you. see you tonight

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