Episode 46

March 15, 2024


Spotlight: Town Meeting Best Practices and Civic Engagement

Hosted by

Alex Torpey
Spotlight: Town Meeting Best Practices and Civic Engagement
Hanover Happenings
Spotlight: Town Meeting Best Practices and Civic Engagement

Mar 15 2024 | 00:31:00


Show Notes

In this episode I discuss the importance of civic engagement and recap a project several dozen state and local officials worked recently to produce a produce a free, nonpartisan guide on how to boost participation at Town Meeting. It was covered on NHPR and you can download the guide at nhtownmeeting.com.

In the episode we cover the phrase “Authentic and effective public engagement” and why it’s important to have shared definitions of terms such as these. We go through some of the reasons behind the handbook, and then go through the five best practices we identified, as well as some quotes from local officials in NH and VT who have put these in practice in their communities. This all should help give some background to why these sorts of efforts are so important to the Selectboard and all of us in the Town government in Hanover.

Press release below:

State and local officials work together to increase Town Meeting participation in NH

Two weeks after New Hampshire's 104th first-in-the-nation primary, the focus now shifts to another hallmark of state leadership: Town Meeting. As more than two hundred New Hampshire communities gear up for this traditional event, they celebrate one of the world's purest forms of democracy, where residents directly participate in legislative decisions from budgets, zoning, and more. Through this process of governing, often joined by shared meals and community awards, Granite Staters sustain the small-town unity that historically has been such a big part of our state’s culture of involvement at the local level.

Despite its roots in the 1600s and a cornerstone of local engagement, Town Meeting still faces challenges similar to those affecting civic systems nationwide, with declining attendance worrying officials who champion its significance. In response, a nonpartisan coalition of state and local officials has compiled a handbook that aims to make some well- tested best practices more widely accessible.

“I came to New Hampshire with a requirement to work in a town with Town Meeting.” Hanover’s Town Manager Alex Torpey, who moved to the Upper Valley from New Jersey in 2022, explains the impetus for the project. “I’ve been fascinated with the process for years, and since coming here, have learned so much from the experience of others who have been leaders in their communities for years or decades. I also heard a lot of differing ideas from people about declining numbers, and what the rules and best practices are, which we wanted to organize and provide to anyone interested.”

The best practices were sourced from nearly two dozen Town Managers, Clerks, and Moderators in New Hampshire, as well as Vermont, through organizations such as the Municipal Management Association of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks Association, as well as independently. The handbook was reviewed by the New Hampshire Municipal Association, New Hampshire Secretary of State, and the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office provided advice about the project as well, though they did not perform a review of the handbook, specifically.

Margaret Byrnes, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association shared that “So many policies that affect our everyday lives are made at the local level, and voters have more influence over these decisions than they may realize. And you don’t need to be a parliamentarian or skilled orator to participate in your town meeting and raise your voice (and your hand)! As the association of all New Hampshire’s cities and towns, NHMA has resources to support local officials in running town meeting—and in effectively running local government throughout the year. We’re pleased to be part of this collaborative effort with Hanover, state agencies, and municipal managers to raise awareness and share best practices for a great town meeting!”

New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlon, whose office helped provide advice and support of this initiative, commented that “New Hampshire elections are well-run and transparent because they are carried out on the local level by locally elected officials. The Secretary of State’s Office is here to support those officials in their successful efforts to protect our democracy.”

Officials hope this guide will inspire and support local leaders, media, and citizens to find ways to increase engagement in Town Meetings, preserving New Hampshire's democratic foundation and fostering community collaboration. They anticipate making new ideas and resources available as well in future updates.

You can download a copy of the free Handbook: nhtownmeeting.com. Reach out to Alex Torpey for more information at: [email protected].

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Speaker A: Hey everyone, this is your town manager Alex Torpey here with a special spotlight episode. In this episode, we're going to talk a bit about town meeting and civic engagement in Hanover in the upper Valley, New Hampshire and New England. NHPR actually did a little bit of coverage about what we're going to talk about last week, and I did get permission from them to play that, so we'll get to that in a few minutes, in case you missed it as well. But first, it's helpful to share a little bit of context and my own perspective coming to this discussion. And then we'll talk a little bit about the project that I just finished working on with a bunch of state and local officials and organizations in New Hampshire and Vermont about town meeting, including some best practices from some great community leaders. And then we're going to talk a little bit about some of the potential takeaways for us in Hanover. So just a little bit about my own context coming to this conversation. So some of you may know that this topic of public and civic engagement type things has been really the driving theme of a lot of my own involvement in any governance type stuff. Starting towards the end of high school, back when I was planning to be a journalist and documentary filmmaker, and through a series of experiences that I went through during that time, and which is a much longer story, I came to the conclusion when I was the ripe old age of 16, but that I still feel today that a lot of what holds us back from accomplishing more as communities and as a society is that not everyone out there has all the information. And a little oversimplified, but basically, if we all had better information, we could make better decisions or choose leaders who will make better decisions or things like that. And after writing for my high school newspaper and making a couple short films about environmental policy issues, I just really went off down this road. And that road, of course, took me to Hampshire College and through involvement in similar issues, through the student government, that also gave me a seat at the decision making table. I then decided I wanted to actually run for office. And the thought was that I might have the chance to help share more information using that platform, but also maybe try my hand at helping to make some decisions from within government about improving in all of these different areas. And through all of my work since then, it's been really clear that one of the worst things that can happen in any sort of democratic system, any sort of system that basically relies on soliciting feedback or decisions from a larger group of people, is that there are dynamics often implicit and unintentional, which can change or limit or bias who is actually participating, how those people participate, why they participate, basically, what mechanisms encourage or discourage what sort of discussions and then decisions. And this issue is important at every level of government. And it's really important really, in any organization's stakeholder ecosystem, whether you're a government or a nonprofit or a company or really anything else. But it's especially important in places like New Hampshire and in Hanover, where we have a direct democracy in the form of town meeting, where large groups of people aren't just influencing decisions, but as we all know, they're often actually making them. So over these last 15 years or so, through municipal work and teaching in an MPA program and taking classes and attending conferences and speaking and learning and debating with people across the country and world, I've had a lot of time to work on these ideas with others. And it's not just for fun, though. Some of those late night debates with other local government nerds really are fun, but rather because conceptually, understanding what may be driving some of these dynamics can yield really important and practical takeaways about how those in and around government approach everything. What kind of policies we create, how we go about our daily work, how you make public records more available, how you set up committee structures and solicit volunteers, how we recommend governing bodies take feedback from the public, how we work through big long term issues, think of the master plan, all sorts of really important things that we deal with on almost a daily basis and which can have a really meaningful long term impact. They all rest on our explicit or implicit understanding of all of these sorts of dynamics. So as an example, and because it's a key foundational concept that does drive some of our work in Hanover right now, is I'd like to share one of those reflections with you before getting to the town meeting specifics. So there's a lot of words that fly around about this type of stuff like transparency, engagement, public processes, civic engagement, civility, informed public, things like that. All of these words and phrases might have some shared and some different meanings between people, but to really sharpen our focus on what we're talking about or what we mean. So I've been using a very specific phrase for years now that I think captures at least what I think are several of the most important elements of this conversation. And talking about this for a second means that we can work off of a shared definition together. So this phrase is authentic and effective. Public engagement. There are three key parts to this phrase. Number one, authentic. Number two, effective. And number three, public engagement. So authentic means that the people doing this work have to actually mean it. If you have officials who look like they do the right thing but aren't actually committed to having an informed and engaged public, we'll never really get to where we want to get to, right? And personally, I think intentions are very important and that having people in a leadership position who do things like believe that good ideas can come from anyone, that a good idea is putting someone who disagrees with you on the committee that's working on the issue so that they can buy in and participate in the process. People who admit they don't know everything and that basically, just broadly providing good information and good engagement will help support all of these efforts. All of that is key. So the word authentic just means that the people that are doing the work just have to be committed to it in some form. Next, the word effective. And that means that efforts can't just be a one time thing. It can't be holding a meeting, one meeting in public, or just making some records available and then calling it a day. It means that any efforts here really need to be thoughtful and sustained and disciplined. They may be really hard to do. They might require a long time horizon. And the way it works should be based off of evidence and best practices through processes that can be measured and reviewed. Again, think about like the master plan process over the last couple of years that has been so engaging. So effective means that the efforts can't be ad hoc, but rather need to be strategic. And lastly, the phrase public engagement. This really means three things. One, that the public has the opportunity and can learn from the government. Two, that the government has the opportunity and can learn from the public. And three, that true interactive spaces that are built on evidencebased models of how to support honest and open and constructive conversations. That those spaces exist and are supported. So when we're talking about these topics, that's the sort of foundation or context. And I think it's helpful to kind of hear some of that, because some of those things drive a lot of what the select board and myself and department heads and others in Hanover are doing on a regular basis trying to support these sorts of things that, again, the phrase I'm using here is authentic and effective public engagement. Now, as many of you are aware, when I was interviewing in towns a couple years ago, I was only really willing to work in a town that had a town meeting form of government and where the community was committed to civil civic engagement. Enter Hanover. Now, since coming up here. It's been quite a learning experience in many regards, and I've spent a lot of time meeting with residents and community groups and leaders within Hanover, trying to understand all of their perspectives on this. But beyond that, it's been a lot of meeting and talking with other local and state officials in New Hampshire and across the river in Vermont through formal groups like the Municipal Management association of New Hampshire or the New Hampshire Municipal association, and lots of informal relationships and group meetings and monthly get togethers with town managers, clerks, moderators, select board members, and more all over the state, asking questions about their experiences, sharing some perspectives from New Jersey and elsewhere that I've worked, and just really trying to work together to find ways that we can implement policies and programs that strengthen local democracy and local decision making. Now, through all of these conversations, one of the things that seemed to worry many of these officials, especially some who've been doing this work for several decades, so that they kind of have some firsthand perspective on what's been changing is that a lot of people have been seeing declining participation in their town meeting and often more broadly in town government in general. And we see this also replicated in a lot of volunteer organizations and boards and committees as well. But this is especially so, it seems, for communities that made the switch to SB two. Or at least the feedback that I've heard, is that the engagement dropped even more significantly. Now, some of this is anecdotal from conversations granted with several dozen local officials across New England. Some is supported by some data that I've seen, and some of that data was actually data we collected last year from about 20 different town clerks and managers that provided a detailed five year count of town meeting participation numbers and. [00:09:49] Speaker B: What was kind of happening. [00:09:50] Speaker A: And the picture that was painted there was not entirely encouraging. Now, I think most of us would agree that getting proactive engagement and interest from people in what's happening before, say something goes wrong, is really important. But also probably all of us know that that is much easier said than done. So what can we do? So to help here? Over the last few months, I've worked with a few dozen local officials, plus officials from several different state agencies, such as the Department of Revenue Administration and the secretary of state's office, as well as the New Hampshire Municipal association, that was really helpful and involved here to source some best practices and put together a handbook, a free, nonpartisan handbook, with examples from local officials about what they've done in their communities to get more people participating and interested in what's happening. There's so much great knowledge out there. And what a bunch of us wanted to do was just try to gather some of that in one place, as well as link off to some of the existing resources that are out there from organizations like NHMA and identify some areas where we do still need some clarity in state law. So I'm going to actually just play a quick three minute clip here from NHPR that aired last week about it. And then I'm going to expand on a few of the details about what we included in the handbook. [00:11:12] Speaker C: Let's look ahead. Now, New Hampshire town meeting day is coming up on Tuesday. It's that time when voters weigh in on local issues. And Hanover's town manager, Alex Torpey, has created a new guide for towns and voters to better understand the process in their community. And he joins us now. Good morning, Alex. [00:11:28] Speaker A: Morning. [00:11:29] Speaker C: Tell me more about this handbook. Why did you decide to make it? [00:11:32] Speaker B: Well, I just moved up to New Hampshire about a little less than two years ago, and I've been working in municipal government for probably 15 years in an elected capacity, in an appointed capacity as a volunteer kind of all across the board. And coming up here to New Hampshire, one of the reasons why I came here and came to Hanover was this sort of deep commitment to local civic engagement and that communities come together and make collaborative decisions about their futures. And it was just very compelling. It's such a unique way to govern and it's such an important part of the state's history. But there's also a lot of questions out there about how to do this. And some of those questions I'm asking, coming up here and asking my colleague, town managers in other towns, what's worked, what hasn't worked. And there are some kind of outstanding questions, a lot of which center around how do we get people to proactively want to engage in some of these issues so that it doesn't take something going wrong to get people really engaged in paying attention. [00:12:31] Speaker C: What are some ways that towns can get people more engaged in the meeting day process on a regular basis? [00:12:36] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:12:36] Speaker B: So, I mean, it's a great question. [00:12:37] Speaker A: Because there were some really good best. [00:12:39] Speaker B: Practices that came out from surveying town managers, town clerks in New Hampshire and Vermont. So an easy one. For example, a lot of towns put together an annual town report that includes the town warrant, but often those documents are pretty long. Ours in Hanover is a couple hundred pages. It's a lot to ask someone to read, cover to cover. So even just sending a postcard to. [00:12:59] Speaker A: Every house with some of the highlights. [00:13:00] Speaker B: Of what's being discussed, maybe what the important themes are at that year's town meeting and then giving people the opportunity to go get more information, but a lack of care services, I mean, that's a big issue in New Hampshire generally, but there are a lot of folks who can't come to town meeting. If you're a single parent and you have a kid at home, what's your choice? You either get to participate in democracy or take care of your kid, and that's not a fair choice to put someone in. So a lot of towns we talked about in a couple of towns, and we may try this in Hanovers providing childcare services or helping connect people to those resources. There was a few more ideas that we identified about explaining warrant article issues and using good language to get people interested, but also making sure that you're being fair in how you're presenting the issue to people so they can come. [00:13:43] Speaker A: To their own decision. [00:13:44] Speaker C: Alex, say someone has never been to a town meeting day, but are just now deciding to get involved. What can they expect to happen once they get to the meeting? What should they know about the process? [00:13:52] Speaker B: Well, that's a really great question, and there's going to be a lot of variation depending on what community you're in. [00:13:57] Speaker A: And so I think probably the best. [00:13:58] Speaker B: Advice that I could give people is reaching out to people that are active in your community already. And so you've got a bunch of. [00:14:06] Speaker A: Different local elected officials, your town clerk. [00:14:08] Speaker B: Your supervisors, your moderator. Oftentimes in most towns in New Hampshire, all those folks are pretty accessible. So if someone's interested, you might just. [00:14:15] Speaker A: Shoot an email or stop by town. [00:14:17] Speaker B: Hall or call and say, hey, how can I learn more? A lot of times towns do have information on the website about how you can get engaged. [00:14:23] Speaker A: And then the New Hampshire Municipal association. [00:14:25] Speaker B: Also has some really good resources that. [00:14:27] Speaker A: We link to at the end of. [00:14:28] Speaker B: Our handbook that are, know, nonpartisan resources that NHMA provides. And some of those are things like what rights you have as a citizen. So if you go to town meeting, you know what you're allowed to make a motion on and what you can do and not do. And so looking at some of those resources ahead of time and maybe trying to find a community group that you can plug into to engage with before you actually go so you feel a little more comfortable on town meeting day. [00:14:50] Speaker C: A little bit of preparation? [00:14:51] Speaker B: Yeah, a little bit, yeah. [00:14:52] Speaker C: Alex Torpey is Hanover's town manager. Thank you for being here. [00:14:55] Speaker B: Thank you for having me. [00:14:56] Speaker C: You can find the guide town meeting best [email protected]. I'm Rick Ganley, and this is NHPR. [00:15:07] Speaker A: So the best practices that we solicited were from local officials from New Hampshire and Vermont, and all of them were reviewed as part of the handbook by the New Hampshire Municipal association and the Department of Revenue Administration and the secretary of state's office. And this free, nonpartisan handbook is available for anybody who wants to. You can download [email protected]. I'll also repeat the disclaimer that we provided in the handbook. I'll repeat it here, which is that if you are listening to this and want to implement some new programs or ideas in your town, it's always worth consulting with your town's attorney or NHMA's legal services. So the best practices that we did fell into kind of five different categories, and I'm going to run through those here, as well as give you a quote from at least one or two of the local officials who provided the information, which I think is kind of cool. So the first is informational mailings to every household. If you're listening to this, you're probably familiar with the town report. That's a big document, though, and we can't really send that out to everybody, but we do want to make sure everybody in town at least has some information. So this is not something we've done in Hanover before for town meeting. And it is one of the things we're going to be trying this year. This was one of the most widely done best practices, and it's one of the highest impact per cost. The postal service has an every door direct mail program and basically getting a postcard or a short pamphlet into everybody's mailbox before town meeting and then linking off to some additional resources where people can go to meetings to learn more or can go online to learn more things like that. So I'll read a couple different, just quick quotes here because I think these are kind of great. So one is Katerine Casper, who is the Lee, New Hampshire select board chair. And in Lee, they mail information about every item on the warrant to all households. They're also looking at offering childcare and food next year. Pretty cool. And we're going to talk more about that in a minute. And I'll also give you one from Deborah Dota, the Chester, New Hampshire, town administrator. And she said, we send a relatively inexpensive, printed, mailed, twelve page booklet containing the budget and warrant, and on the back, a checklist that residents can fill out with their planned votes. This is sent to every house a couple of weeks before town meeting. So number two was providing explanatory statements for warrant articles. This is one that we do currently in Hanover, but not every town actually did do this, and different towns had different formats of how they provided this information. Basically, you can get pretty bogged down in Legalese often, which is required. There's certain languages required by the state of what has to be in the warrant article itself, but we can provide warrant article explanations that provide more information. There's a bunch of different ways to format that, and we actually included a few different examples from a few different towns in the handbook. So some might talk about pros and cons, some might show costs, some might include the stakeholders who've been involved in the discussions. But really, what's important to do is make sure you can communicate concisely. Not always a strength of mine personally, but to communicate concisely why this issue is important for someone to pay attention to. It's not about telling people which way to vote, and it's important to balance the language that you provide so people can come to their own conclusion. But why is this being considered? Why is it important? Why do people need to read this warrant article explanation and show up at. [00:18:44] Speaker B: The meeting, discuss it, and actually vote on it? [00:18:47] Speaker A: And so if you think about someone who's never been to a town meeting before, what information might they need to at least understand what we might be talking about? So I'll read you out a couple more quotes. So, Heidi Carlson, the Fremont, New Hampshire town administrator, said, we send a mailer with the complete warrant and the less legalese narratives, we make it a point to stick to factual information. It costs money, but it's worth it to help inform our community. So number three is providing or facilitating childcare for town residents. This is a big one. And we, of course, all know that there's care challenges in Hanover, the upper valley and everywhere, really right now in general. And that's one of the ways that can prevent people from coming out to town meeting. So we're going to be actually trying some of this in Hanover as well this year. And there's a couple different ways to do it. Some might be just collecting information about nonprofits or companies or individuals without vetting anything and just putting a post on the website and say, hey, here's a list of different people and organizations that offer childcare. Call them and you're on your own. So some might be a little bit more, whereas they might vet some certain things or provide cost information or things like that, and then some towns actually will provide childcare services, and so there's a bunch of different ways to do it. Each has some pros and cons, but this is something that's really important. And again, trying to think about how do we make sure that the people who want to come out town meeting can actually come out. So Susan Clark, who is the town moderator in Middlesex, Vermont, and also who co authored several books about civic engagement in New England, including all those in favor rediscovering the secrets of town meeting and community, which is a really cool read, she said offering childcare can measurably improve town meeting attendance, especially among women. It's important to publicize it widely and best to offer it consistently over time so that families come to understand that they can depend on it. Eric Duffy, the Woodstock, Vermont municipal manager, said, when I worked in Stoneham, Massachusetts, we work with the YMCA to provide childcare services. It really helped, especially for young families, to be able to attend town meeting next, hosting informational workshops ahead of time. This was sort of an interesting one because a lot of the officials that I talked to thought that if you were a traditional town meeting town, that you were not allowed to have a sort of like workshop or discussion forum beforehand. Most towns, in fact, all towns, are required to approve what goes on the warrant, and some towns have sort of a discussion that night, but usually not a lot of people show up to that. But what's interesting is that confirmed by the New Hampshire secretary of state's office and Department of Revenue Administration, there is actually pretty wide latitude for towns that are not SB two to host workshops, fairs, open houses, discussions, debates, or anything like that. You can have meetings about items on the ballot, about the business meeting, the budget specific warrant articles, or for the public to meet all the candidates that are running in the election. One of the things that was recommended from the New Hampshire secretary of state's office is to avoid calling that meeting a deliberative session unless you are an SB two town. So just call it something else. There's a bunch of different points that we talk about in the handbook, about thinking about how to do something like that, and that's something that we are considering, if we can put it together this year in Hanover, some sort of forum or open house or something that would allow people to come in, ask questions and learn more so that when you show up at town meeting, you're a little bit better prepared and a little bit more informed. John Haverstock, the Hartford, Vermont town manager, said, before our town meeting, we have a meeting where we discuss the budget and where the community can meet the candidates. This helps inform our community members. And obviously, there's plenty of things that you need to make sure to do correctly here, such as if you have quorum of a governing body in the same place, even if they're not in an official meeting. You'll need to notice that, for example, if you have a planning board but they're all staffing different tables. And also that, of course, if you're hosting a meet the candidate night, you've got to have all the candidates there and make sure that that is all provided in a fair and equal way. Again, those are areas where you definitely want to talk to your town attorney if you're doing anything new there. Lots of great opportunities. And then the last kind of category of best practices was setting a civic civil tone in a welcoming meeting. I think one of the things that makes New Hampshire and a lot of New England a special place to live is this commitment to being directly involved in governing our communities. I mean, some of these town meetings go back three or 400 years. It's amazing, and it's such a key part of our culture here. And again, one of the reasons why I came to work here. But as we all know, things are not always that easy. And there are some really troubling cultural dynamics in our political conversations, especially at the national and state level and in a lot of local communities, too. It's not easy to have a civic in a constructive environment. In fact, it really takes a lot of work by a lot of different. [00:24:09] Speaker B: Stakeholders to do so. [00:24:10] Speaker A: We just had thought of a couple quick ideas that some communities had implemented that helped move people in that direction. So one was a civic invocation. So some towns have a community leader or someone who just turned 18, and this is going to be their first time voting, or maybe a recently naturalized citizen where somebody will read a passage or statement that talks about the sort of privilege that we have to live in such a democratic time and place. Think about how few people throughout history have had access to that and how few still today do, and how lucky we are. So by reading that statement out at the beginning of the meeting, the idea is to sort of set a positive tone. Of course, the moderator is super important here. Another area where I think we've done well in Hanover, we've been lucky facilitating constructive meetings. But there's a lot the moderator can do, and there's a lot of resources available about that, especially from NHMA. Some towns do award ceremonies where they might recognize employees or volunteers or community leaders and some believe that doing so up front was nice because it kind of kicks things off in the right tone. But some did it in the middle or at the end of the meeting to try to keep people longer into the meeting and to provide a break during the meeting. A lot of communities do food. That was one of the things that I thought was really cool, that there was a sort of social aspect to a lot of these town meetings. Some towns have community groups that will participate in town meetings. So you might have an Eagle Scout presenting on a project or even having nonprofits like your social service organizations set up tables near where the business meeting is. So basically what you're really doing is turning town meeting into a business meeting, into almost a hub for civic engagement in your community, a way for people to meet each other and meet other nonprofits and things like that. It's also potentially a great opportunity to get more volunteers. So there were some cool quotes from a couple different officials. So Diane Richardelli, the town administrator from Newberry, had one of the best that I just love what they're doing there. And so what she said is Newberry has a ham and bean dinner prepared by the Newberry beautification committee. Residents gather, share a dinner provided by volunteers, and then sit back and relax for town meeting, which takes place at Sunopee Mountain. Sharing a meal, residents start out in a grateful mood, reminded of how wonderful their town is and thankful for the generous spirit of their neighbors. What a great way to set a tone for a public meeting. Tod Selig, the Durham, New Hampshire town administrator, said, not only is it important to honor leaders and those beloved in our community, but doing so and publicizing ahead of time may help bring more people out to the meetings. So those were five different things that we talked about in the handbook. We go into more detail and we provide a bunch of examples and templates that you can use in your community. Again, in Hanover, we are going to be looking at getting postcards out to every household. In addition to continuing to make the town report and other resources available. We are going to try and do something to help connect some dots with childcare, and we may try to do an informational session or open house or something beforehand if we can get it organized. We may also try a couple of things during town meeting to try and make the meeting a bit more fun and really remind us why we are all out here, love for our community and our neighbors and caring about our collective future. So obviously, I think this is a really interesting and important topic because really this is a meta issue, meaning the environment in which people come together to discuss and make decisions informs every other issue we may have on our radar. Right? The more that we set ourselves up for success in this meta area, meaning the more that we invest in creating evidencebased infrastructure that supports authentic and effective public engagement, the more we set ourselves up for success in any area of specific policy or program in the future, even if we don't know yet what those discussions or challenges might turn out to be. So we talked a little bit about some important context for understanding some of our initiatives and efforts in Hanover, such as framing things around concepts like authentic and effective public engagement, which has some pretty specific goals built into that language that we can flesh out and understand and discuss together. We talked about some of the concerns that folks have across New England about how and why and when people participate, and some of the stakeholders that we worked with to start to chart a course to investing more and building up that process, engaging more people proactively ahead of time, and ensuring that those people showing up are representative of the communities that we serve and that people feel informed and empowered walking in that door to vote. We landed on some takeaways in Hanover that we may try in this year and in future years. All of this is investing in the best sort of preventative medicine. The more we invest in our civic spaces ahead of time, the more prepared we will be to meet any challenges that may lie ahead. The challenges we already know about, which are plenty enough, and the ones we don't yet even have on our radar. So what do you think about all of this, if you're listening to this right now? Yep. You, you were interested enough to listen to this episode and even to make it all the way to the end. So if you're still listening, what has been your experience, either in Hanover or elsewhere, that you've lived or worked or visited? Do you have ideas on how towns can engage community members to get people more interested in participating proactively? Is there something that you've seen work really well elsewhere, or something that you've seen not work that well here in Hanover that we can work on? I know I've had a bunch of people and different groups across New Hampshire reach out since that handbook went out there. So we've already got some gears turning and ideas for version two. And it's been really exciting because a bunch of towns have already put in place some of these best practices since we all talked about them together. So please reach out, get in touch if you have any thoughts or reactions here. I'm going to try and post some more episodes about this topic, specifically including some interviews with some of those different local officials, including some of those who helped on this initiative. So again, appreciate you being involved and engaged in what's happening in the community and hope to see you out at some meetings and hope to see you. If you are an eligible voter in Hanover, hope to see you at town meeting on May 14. Close.

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