ORLEANS – It may be the Orleans Agricultural Advisory Committee, but the select board is considering whether or not some seats on the committee should be open to non-residents.
Town Administrator John Kelly told the board Oct. 12 that as currently written, the committee’s charge limits participation on the seven-member panel to Orleans residents. He added that with the exception of ex-officio members, it is not common for advisory committees to be open to those who don’t live in town.
But Michael Herman of the select board argued that an exception could be made for the agricultural council. That’s because at Putnam Farm, there are farmers from out of town who work plots and sell their goods in Orleans. “Putnam is a unique situation where we have expertise, and it’s growing significantly,” he said.
The town purchased the 14-acre farm on Rock Harbor Road near the Orleans-Eastham rotary in 2010. There are currently 12 active plots at Putnam, but plans are in the works to add an additional 20 farmable plots to the property.
Kelly noted that the farm was purchased with state grant money, which he said automatically opened it up to being farmed by residents in other communities. The existing 12 plots are managed by residents of Brewster, Eastham, Provincetown and Wellfleet as well as Orleans.
The select board has had discussions of late about how to draw more interest from the public in serving on local boards and committees. The agricultural council, Herman said, is one area of town government that could benefit from expanding its membership beyond Orleans.
“We’re not getting as many applicants to our committees and our advisory committees as we would like,” he said. “And looking to broaden the pool, we may have to look more regionally.”
The council consists of five voting members and two alternates. Herman suggested that the council’s charge could be changed to allow for non-residents to serve only as alternate, non-voting members.
“I’m not sure that same logic would hold for me anyways on other committees,” select board member Mefford Runyon said. “But on this one, if we want to take a little bit of a try at this, I wouldn’t mind.”
Mark Mathison of the select board said the board should also look throughout town to see if there are other boards and committees that could similarly benefit from more regional membership. He said another such committee might be the shellfish and waterways committee, given Orleans’ shared stewardship of the Nauset Estuary with Eastham.
While select board member Kevin Galligan said he encouraged looking at ways Orleans can share resources with other towns, he also expressed concern about the potential for bringing non-residents aboard the agricultural council over other Orleans residents who might be interested in serving.
For select board chair Andrea Reed, the question is how do non-residents with a vested interest in local agriculture “work with policy with the town.” She questioned if a separate council should be created for Putnam Farm, but Kelly noted that the farm is under the jurisdiction of the conservation commission, not the select board.
“That’s the other thing to keep in mind, any of the rules, the licensing…everything is through conscom,” he said. “You want to be careful coming up with a committee that’s just for Putnam.”
But the select board created the agricultural council, which Reed said gives the board the authority to create policy for the panel.
“We can keep it narrow to this committee, or we can make it as broad as we want for any committee we have convened,” she said.
The select board plans to continue its discussion on the matter at a future meeting.
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