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A Call to Service

This is my first column after having been elected to the Longmeadow Select Board. As of this writing, I have yet to attend my first meeting as a member, but I do not want to delay in re-emphasizing an issue that I made part of my platform during the campaign. Namely, I want to encourage those who have not previously served on appointed town boards to apply to fill the existing vacancies.
This call to service is extended especially to women, who currently comprise only about 20% of the membership on appointed boards. Successful corporations and government agencies know that having a diverse workplace is important to achieving success. Talent exists everywhere. It exists in every income category, every age category, every racial, religious, and ethnic category, and it certainly is equally spread among men and women. If we fail to capture all of the talent, ideas, and enthusiasm within our community, our town government will be less effective.
To encourage town residents to take on the uncompensated and sometimes difficult work on behalf of the community, we on the Select Board need to make service on these boards as appealing as possible. There are three specific ways in which I will try to make that happen.
First, the Select Board needs to tolerate disagreement. A great number of the people who serve on appointed boards take pride in their service. Some have served for a number of years, and they would like to continue their service. Unfortunately, with the decision for re-appointment in the hands of the Select Board, there is a concern that may inevitably creep into the minds of appointed board members: expressing disagreement with a Select Board decision may put an end to one’s service to the town. Appointed board members may decide that keeping your mouth shut is the best policy.
I do not want appointed board members to keep their mouths shut. Debate and disagreement are the essence of politics and government, and I believe that the interaction, and even the clash, of opposing viewpoints leads to the truth and the best policies. Select Board members make mistakes–I surely will make mistakes during my term. As the children’s story about The Emperor’s New Clothes illustrates, yes-men or yes-women are of little value. Select Board members need to possess the humility to listen and to tolerate disagreement.
Second, the Select Board needs to give due weight to the recommendations of appointed boards. While some decisions are made solely by appointed boards, others come in the form of recommendations which must be ratified by the Select Board. In the case of the latter, Select Board members must make their own judgments, but those judgments should be informed by the respect and the appropriate deference owed to the appointed boards. Often, appointed boards will have spent more time on an issue within their purview than the Select Board can give. In those cases, I will have no trouble relying on the recommendations of appointed boards.
Third, the Select Board needs to work collaboratively with appointed boards. Too often, decision-making in government is not geared toward “Getting to Yes,” but as I have joked, it can be about “Getting to No.” The difference between the two is often as simple as communication. As a Select Board member, I will strive to identify issues or areas of concern in advance of the need to make a final decision. Often, small modifications to a proposal can lead to consensus.
I ran for Select Board because I believed I could make a difference in the life of our community. That surely is the goal of everyone who volunteers his or her time to the town. My goal is to make sure that honorable purpose is not lost in the frustration, dysfunction, and internal divisions that can sometimes attend town government. The civic pride that we see in our religious institutions, and in our sports leagues and associations, is proof that we value community and that we believe in something larger than ourselves. Consider serving the town on an appointed board.

Alex J. Grant is a member of the Longmeadow Select Board. His email address is agrant@longmeadow.org.