#9 – Governance and Collaboration

Communities across the country are grappling with the acceleration of change and what that means for leadership and governance. Effective collaborative public engagement in governance is an important part of that conversation and encompasses the myriad of ways to bring people together to consider issues of public importance. Its goal is to involve residents and stakeholders in the broader community, solicit their feedback and opinions, and build consensus when possible, in the process of decision making at a local level.

Falmouth residents have shown an interest in staying abreast of evolving, proven trends and striving to be a leader among communities in the region. Collaboration with other communities and organizations in the region will be increasingly important for Falmouth’s future.

What we know so far (from the Community Survey results and background research work):

HISTORY

  • From its incorporation in 1718 to 1962, Falmouth was governed by a Town Meeting style of government. Elected selectmen formed the administrative body and residents met annually to vote on proposed budgets and policy decisions.
  • The Town has operated under the Council-Manager form of government since 1962. Policymaking and legislative authority is vested in a seven-member Town Council. The Town Council is responsible, among other things, for passing ordinances, adopting the budget, appointing committees, and hiring the Town Manager. The Council is elected on a non-partisan basis to three-year staggered terms. All Council members are elected at large, i.e. town-wide.
  • The Town Manager is responsible for carrying out the policies and ordinances of the Town Council, for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Town, and for appointing the heads of the Town’s departments.
  • Over one dozen committees and boards assist the Town Council and staff in conducting the business of Town government. Approximately 125 volunteer community members collectively contribute thousands of hours of service each year to the work of these committees. The Town Council interviews and appoints all members to the committee and boards, the majority of which serve an advisory function to the Council. The Planning Board and Board of Zoning Appeals are quasi-judicial boards.
  • The Town provides a full range of services, including police, emergency medical services and fire protection; the construction and maintenance of highways, streets, and other infrastructure; recreational activities; elementary and secondary education; harbor control and emergency preparedness; municipal planning, assessing, building inspection and code enforcement; and wastewater treatment.
  • Under the Town Charter, the Town of Falmouth’s Education department is a department of the Town with an elected school board and an appointed Superintendent of Schools.

RELATED MACRO TRENDS

  • More and more, cities and towns are collaborating on a regional basis to achieve their infrastructure goals. This regional perspective can bring down costs and achieve greater connectivity and regional cohesiveness that avoids local competition and conflict over roles and responsibilities.
  • Peri-urban spaces (meaning communities on the peripheral ring of major cities) are growing in importance and as areas of innovation.
  • A macro trend occurring since the pandemic has been a shift of population from cities to smaller towns. Communities around cities such as Portland that maintain a high-level of amenities are especially attractive for new residents. Evidence of this trend has begun in Falmouth and will most likely continue.
  • Interest in more open and transparent governance with greater public engagement has generated a movement toward more effective and broader communication strategies within municipal governments as well as the expansion of public engagement processes. At the same time, volunteerism is, in general, decreasing as time-demands from multiple sources (work, family, school, etc.) prevent people from getting more involved in local government. This can make it difficult to garner significant and meaningful engagement and participation from a broad and diverse group of residents in Town governance and planning for the future.

WHAT IS CURRENTLY HAPPENING IN FALMOUTH

  • The Town has been working to inform residents more effectively and efficiently about Town activities, programs, policies, and services, enhance communications between the Town and its residents, and increase resident engagement in Town government. In 2019, the Town hired an Education and Outreach Coordinator to manage Town communications. Since that time, the Town has developed a strategic communications plan, created a new bi-weekly newsletter, The Falmouth Focus, begun sending bi-annual print newsletters to all households, and begun publishing a weekly ad in the Northern Forecaster.
  • The Town’s website utilizes a software platform specific to municipal governments, which allows the posting of agendas, meeting minutes and videos, reports, and presentations providing residents easy access to government records. The website also allows for subscriptions to email lists so that residents can receive regular updates on topics and issues that interest them.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Town adopted new technologies including remote/online services, Zoom, and hybrid meeting software to allow the public to continue to efficiently conduct business with the Town and participate in meetings in a safe manner.
  • The Town Council has been working to enhance transparency and public engagement opportunities surrounding changes to the Town’s policies and ordinances including revising the processes for reviewing zoning amendment requests and street acceptance applications.
  • The Town works collaboratively with communities in the Greater Portland region. The Town is an active member of the Maine Municipal Association, the Greater Portland Council of Governments, and the Metro Regional Coalition, a committee of the Council Chairs and Managers from Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland, and Westbrook. The Town Manager also meets regularly with Managers of other municipalities in Cumberland County and across the state.
  • Additionally, Town staff and councilors serve in leadership roles for area transportation planning organizations including the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS), a federal metropolitan planning organization that coordinates transportation planning and investment decisions with the state, municipalities, and public transportation partners, and the Greater Portland METRO. Staff also participates in Cumberland County’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.
  • The Town is an owner member community of ecomaine (solid waste provider) and receives water services from Portland Water District along with ten other Greater Portland communities.
  • The Public Safety, Public Works, and Wastewater Departments work collaboratively with local, state, and federal agencies and have established agreements with surrounding communities to assist in emergency situations.

WHAT THE COMMUNITY SURVEY AND RAPID POLLING RESULTS SHOW

  • Survey respondents were asked the following question about decision-making in Falmouth (scale: 1 = Voters only decide, 10 = ‘Influenced by interested people’): Should community decision-making be limited only to Town of Falmouth voters or influenced by other people who also have some direct relationship to, or interest in, the future of the community (i.e. young people, business owners, etc)? 44% responded ‘Only voters decide’, and the remaining 66% were dispersed fairly evenly in responses up to 4% ‘Influenced by interested people’.
  • Falmouth Community Survey participants were asked to indicate how important they believed the following community and social fabric topics will be in shaping the future of Falmouth. Using a scale of 1-3 (not important), 4-7 (neutral), and 8-10 (important). Below are the results:
    • Continuously fostering new community leaders: 6% not important, 32% neutral, 62% important
    • Fostering civic dialogue on key issues: 5% not important, 26% neutral, 69% important
    • Providing opportunities to volunteer and participate: 4% not important, 31% neutral, 65% important
    • Residents being part of key decision making: 1% not important, 17% neutral, 83% important
  • When polled at the first Future Summit about leadership and collaboration, results were as follows:
    • What leadership posture should Falmouth adopt relative to similar NE towns?
      • Strive to be leading role-model community (48%)
      • Stay abreast of evolving proven trends (36%)
      • Stay doing much as we are today (3%)
      • Reduce our involvement and investment (12%)
    • Which future planning collaboration do you think would deliver the most value and impact?
      • Plan only within and for Falmouth (24%)
      • Plan with towns to North (18%)
      • Plan with towns to West (0%)
      • Plan with Portland to the south (0%)
      • Plan with the whole Greater Portland area (38%)
      • Plan State-wide scale (0%)
      • All of the above (21%)
    • What type of collaboration do you think will be best and most beneficial to Falmouth? (Select all that apply)
      • No need to collaborate (12%)
      • Share best practice ideas (79%)
      • Collaborate together on shared planning (55%)
      • Invest together in shared solutions (48%)

CONSULTANT’S INSIGHTS and POTENTIAL TRADE-OFFS

  • In today’s highly interconnected world, no community can act as an island. Falmouth’s future is influenced and shaped by forces and trends outside its control, and outside its geography. However, Falmouth can provide influence on the immediate surrounding areas, through sensible cooperation and collaboration.
  • As a successful community, Falmouth can be part of the solution. The community can help find innovative and novel ways to solve shared future challenges.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

As the acceleration of change occurs, collaboration with surrounding communities in the region will become more important. Falmouth residents have indicated a keen interest in being a leading role-model community relative to similar towns in the Northeast.

What future collaborations do you think would be best and most beneficial to Falmouth? On what topics can Falmouth best provide leadership and act as a role-model example?

Comments made via this portal are public. We expect conversations to follow the rules of polite discourse. Messages containing inappropriate content or language will be removed at the discretion of Future iQ.

6 Comments

Based on the results of the Vision and Values survey,
Respondents feel it is very important that they be a part of key decisions by 1065 to 8 or a ratio of 133 to 1.
Two other conclusions from that same survey:
The desire to keep Falmouth autonomous is 11 to 1 over the desire to have Falmouth become part of Portland.

The desire to have voters decide what happens to Falmouth is 7 to 1 over the desire to have other interested parties included.
It will be very important to keep in mind what the citizens of Falmouth have expressed in the survey results.

What happens in Falmouth should stay in Falmouth! We should have our own culture and not seek to become part of the “Portland Community”.

The overwhelming survey result about resident engagement and involvement in key decisions (133:1) seems to have vanished from this group’s structured focus and the (Town staff’s) desire to increase the Town’s role and influence with the regional council and have the regional council ascend in importance has taken center stage for discussion. The latter is not where the residents’ focus and overwhelming interest lies. That focus and overwhelming interest in “power sharing”’on key decisions with council is where this group’s primary attention should be.
There is no inevitability of regional interests taking precedence over resident voice and resident interest in a greater say in key decision making.

Today we are facing complex issues around demographic shifts, climate disruption, population growth and housing affordability. All of which are better addressed through deep and proactive collaboration with stakeholders at the local, regional and national level. 38% of survey respondents indicated support for regional collaboration and 55% advocate shared participation in shared planning. I am glad to see the town of Falmouth leadership is an active participant in a number of state and regional organizations including GPCOG, Maine Municipal Association and the Metro Regional Coalition as well as others.

So interesting to see the results of our survey!

I would like to address the point about using best practices with 79% of respondents in agreement. If we agree that others have good ideas worth thinking about, and those good ideas and outcomes can be achieved by collaboration and communication beyond our town boarders, we may need to think more deeply about our place within our region. Collaboration and communication with neighboring communities (or communities further afield who have figured some of our challenges out) does not mean giving up our sense of autonomy or the sense of place here in Falmouth.

Addressing the multitude of issues we face because we are part of this ecological and social ecosystem (climate disruption, housing shortages etc.), will require looking beyond our boarders because we do not have the time or money (or likely the inclination) to re-invent the wheel for each of these issues.

Some of the questions we might ask ourselves are:
how do we engage with other communities that have shown a high level of civic success?
how do we implement best practices from away, that will also be best practices for Falmouth?
how do we collaborate with our regional neighbors while keeping our sense of place?

THANK YOU to everyone who participated in this focus group. I appreciated all the insights and suggestions for enhancing community engagement in town decision making.

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MORE INFORMATION​

For more information about the Town of Falmouth Vision and Values project, please contact:

David Beurle, CEO
Future iQ
Phone: (612) 757-9190
david@future-iq.com

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