ORLEANS – There's no shortage of volunteer board and committee members in town. But the select board last week said more needs to be done to mentor and coach those members along into leadership roles.
The town currently limits members to serving no more than two terms, but it's a policy that's not always adhered to. As a result, other members don't grow as readily into chairmanship positions on boards and committees in town, members said June 1.
"Yes, we have had a policy of two terms," said Mark Mathison of the select board. "But when you look through the list, you have people who have been serving for four, five terms looking for the sixth. When you do that, you've built in an immovable object in terms of dealing with the world around us that is changing rapidly now."
Mathison said he also feared the town could potentially open itself up to legal liability if the town's boards and committees aren't composed of and led by members with the appropriate amount of experience.
"We can be in a ton of trouble because of that," he said.
Select Board Chair Andrea Reed said on both the select board and planning board, the chair and vice chair work closely together in an effort to prepare the vice chair to eventually lead the board. But that system is not in place for all boards and committees, she said.
"We don't have a way to mentor and train leadership so that leadership rotates through committees," she said.
Mathison said one option could be to work with the town's charter review committee to orchestrate language that would require that committee chairmanships be rotated each year.
Select Board member Mefford Runyon, meanwhile, said he saw the value in creating more associate member positions on boards and committees. Associate members can't vote but can participate in committee discussions and debates.
"I think a certain amount of rotation has developed through that," he said.
"They're there to be a part of that committee, to learn, to sit in and then to step up when there's a vacancy in terms of a regular member," Mathison said of the value in having associate board members.
Others on the board said on June 1 that boards and committees need more support from town staff. Reed suggested that a "community volunteer coordinator," or some similar role, be created in town to help committees liaise with staff in town hall.
Town Administrator John Kelly said some boards reach out to different town staffers on their own with questions, which he said is a breach of protocol.
"They're not supposed to deal directly with staff," he said. "If there are requests to do things, they're supposed to go through me. They're not supposed to give direction to staff, and there are committees that don't follow that rule."
More broadly, select board members said the expectations for serving on local boards and committees need to be more clearly explained, especially for incoming members. In the past, there have been occasions where sitting committee members regularly fail to attend meetings and keep in communication with their chairperson. However, there is nothing in writing outlining how they are expected to serve if elected or appointed.
In the most extreme cases, members are privately called upon by the chair and the town administrator to resign, Kelly said.
"If somebody's not able to fulfill the duties, for whatever reasons they may be, the select board should be able to move on to a new applicant, and we should be able to maybe ask people to resign," said Michael Herman of the select board.
While members say procedural improvements can be made, Herman said with an estimated 150 unpaid committee members in town, he is "fascinated" by the amount of volunteerism that goes on in Orleans everyday.
"It's mind boggling how much they benefit this town," he said.
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