One of the hardest things for Towns to accomplish is to fill seats on volunteer boards and commissions. While it’s relatively easy to get people to run for Town Council or the Board of Selectmen, filling Zoning Board and less well known committees and boards is another story.
We repeatedly write stories and announcements of board vacancies, but we also run stories when specific board or committee members are not reappointed and when their role or actions are questioned.
We suspect it’s not just a coincidence that volunteer applicants are few and far between, because how the selectmen or councilors treat their appointees plays a big role in how willing residents are to give up space on their already overbooked schedules to serve their community.
The Londonderry Planning Board chairman publicly berated the chairman of the Master Plan Implementation Committee last week. And while in the interest of full disclosure we note that the Master Plan chairman happens to be publisher of Nutfield Publishing’s three newspapers, including the Londonderry Times, that should have nothing to do with the Planning Board chair’s choice of words. The Master Plan Implementation Committee is advisory, and was set up with a surprisingly large number of members, making getting a quorum difficult. And town staff assigned to the committee should have meant communication with the Planning Board was easy on both ends.
The Planning Board noted a lack of minutes. We agree the minutes requirement should be followed. And we’d like to see that requirement applied rigorously to every town board or committee.
But criticism of the committee, and a threat to end its life, are not the best way to encourage people to volunteer. Perhaps the committee and the Planning Board share different views. Because it is advisory, the committee can only recommend, but the Planning Board should not write off the group’s efforts without listening to them.
What’s needed for a person to volunteer for town service? For the appointing body, that means a welcoming attitude for a start; an attitude that new people with new ideas are being sought out, rather than rubber-stamping appointments of the same people year after year; and a healthy respect for different viewpoints. Prospective volunteers need to be committed to attending meetings and doing their homework, rather than focusing on their personal bias.
This isn’t a Londonderry problem. Finding people to offer their time is getting harder and harder, as people put in more hours at work, keep up with their children’s activities, or spend their retirement doing what brings them satisfaction, rather than grief.
Volunteering is a two-way street, and mutual respect should be the guiding light.