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HomeMy Public PortalAboutGovernance Summary Paper 1 | P a g e BREWSTER VISION PLANNING COMMITTEE SUMMARY PAPER GOVERNANCE JULY 2022 I. BACKGROUND In 2017, the Brewster Vision Advisory Group conducted workshops that provided detailed and valuable feedback from residents about the Town’s treasures, challenges, and opportunities in the context of governance. The primary themes that emerged from the workshops relative to Governance include:  A desire for government to be more transparent and customer-service oriented, and to further embrace technology to better communicate and engage citizens in town-wide decision-making processes.  A highly valued school system that is treasured by existing residents and one that attracts people to Brewster; and  An opportunity to more proactively engage both Brewster’s skilled retiree population and general citizenry of every age in Town affairs. In 2016, the Government Study Committee completed its 2-year look into the Town’s organizational structure, duties and responsibilities of various Boards and Departments, and overall methods of communication. The Committee’s final report identified recommendations for the Town to consider, ranging from the form of governance to the number of boards and committees with overlapping charges. II. RECENT ACTIONS BY THE TOWN A. Town Response to Government Study Committee Recommendations The Town established a Charter Committee in 2019 with the charge to develop a charter to address the structure and powers of Brewster town government, including election procedures, executive and legislative branches, town administration, multi-member bodies, and financial provisions, consistent with Massachusetts law and municipal best practices. The Charter was approved by the Select Board and then by Town Meeting vote in Spring 2021. This effort underscored the importance of looking at Town government as an organization. B. Town Response to Vision Plan Recommendations The Select Board develops an annual Strategic Plan with goals linked to the Vison Plan Building Blocks/Goals to keep work aligned with the Vision Plan. The Plan’s consensus goals inform the Town’s ongoing and upcoming policy and operational initiatives. A monitoring matrix with general timeline, set priorities, responsible parties, and key stakeholders for each goal facilitates accountability and tracking of progress. Significant progress has been made on many priorities identified in the Vison Plan. The Strategic Plan is available on the Town website. a. Town’s Communication Tools Several initiatives have been undertaken to expand and improve communication to citizens about Town initiatives, plans and progress. Town Website The Town has long maintained a website where current information is posted by department, as well as developed bulletin boards, informational brochures, and an email list with more than 845 current subscribers (two-thirds of whom view daily) on Town initiatives. The Town has also created dedicated websites for projects where taxpayers have invested significant resources, such as the Water Planning website, accessible from the Brewster home page, where interested persons can learn about projects, progress, and results. In response to public input, a more user-friendly website has been designed and developed, with launch planned for FY23. Expanded Use of Media and Social Media The Town requires all board and committee meetings to be presented live and/or recorded for viewing on Government Channel 18 and online in an effort to increase transparency and better inform the public of governance processes and decisions. Recently, the Town made the BGTV media resources available by downloading the “Cablecast” app. Town livestream and media are now available to all manner of devices including Apple TV, Roku TV, iOS, and Android platforms. The Town frequently, and often daily, posts announcements on the Town website home page. These announcements and links to recorded board and committee meetings are cross posted on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter to foster communication with a broader audience. Beginning with the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, the online meeting platform ZOOM has been used for purposes of remote board and committee meeting participation that is open to the public for viewing and participation as appropriate. Viewing is either live or by recording. In order to reach a wider group of older residents, the Council on Aging and Brewster Ladies Library expanded its online offerings of educational, recreational, and physical exercise programs through taped presentations on BGTV and LCTV. Other Online Communication Tools Starting with FY23, the Town publishes the annual budget in a user-friendly online format. The OpenGov platform provides a dynamic, visual representation of Town finances for citizens to better understand where Town funds are being spent. Residents can view budget details by department as well as current year accomplishments and goals for the coming year. The capital planning process will transition to this platform in FY2023. Use of this platform is intended to enhance transparency and public engagement. Citizens Forums The opportunity for residents to raise issues and make announcements at many Town Committee meetings was introduced through inclusion of a “Citizens Forum” item on many standing meeting agendas. Most Town committees now have an associated email address so that residents can provide comments and questions directly to a committee. Use of Public Forums To improve communication and community engagement around important issues and projects, Town Administration offers public forums to present information and/or progress reports on such matters as an overview of warrant articles prior to Town Meeting, major re-paving projects, housing initiatives, and the recent purchase of the Sea Camps bayside and Long Pond properties. Similar informational sessions are provided through groups like the Brewster Community Network. These forums are offered in-person (as appropriate) and online. 3 | P a g e Other Efforts To enhance communication with local business owners, Town Administration, and the Chamber of Commerce co-host biannual meetings to present information about Town plans and activities and to receive feedback and input from business owners. b. Volunteerism A common theme from the 2017 Vision workshops was Brewster’s robust volunteer community. The vast majority of Town Committees and Boards are staffed by volunteers. Volunteers also help make Town Department programs, such as the Natural Resources Department’s FLATS shellfish program, and the COA’s Meals on Wheels program, so successful. The Garden Club is another important volunteer group that contributes to the rural and scenic beauty that adds to Brewster’s highly valued community character by maintaining flowers and plantings at busy intersections throughout Town. The Select Board has implemented procedures for Standing Committee appointments to increase the transparency of this process. Necessary requirements for appointment are stated in publicly announced requests, and a uniformed application form is used. Following vetting as to qualifications, applicants are interviewed and appointed by the Select Board. A “Citizens Leadership Academy” is planned to support volunteer recruitment and enhance volunteer contributions. Additionally, all volunteers are required to complete online training on the Open Meeting and Conflict of Interest Laws offered by the state. Managing volunteer programs requires staff resources. However, the Town should continue to explore ways to engage both Brewster’s skilled retiree and younger populations in volunteer opportunities. A “Serve Your Community” form to recruit new volunteers is available on the Town website. However, any databases of volunteers are maintained by Town Departments through whom they are recruited. For example, Town Administration maintains a database of volunteers for Town Committees and Boards. Similarly, the COA maintains a large database of volunteers who support services like medical rides and various educational and recreational programs. Other Departments maintain lists of residents for volunteer support as needed. A central database would offer many advantages and Town Administration recognizes its value, but development and maintenance of said database has not been undertaken. c. Enhanced Customer Service The Town has launched several initiatives to strengthen the customer service approach to Town services, including staff training in customer service, the 2021 adoption of a pledge and training for Town officials to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion for all. This is reinforced through Town Administrator quarterly meetings with staff and monthly meetings with Department heads. The Town is also launching an electronic permitting platform to replace its paper-based applications for Building, Health, and Planning Departments. Online applications for beach, recycling, and shellfish permits have been implemented along with the FY23 use of license plate reader technology at the transfer station. With electronic issuance of visit beach passes, this technology replaced paper passes on visitor vehicles. To facilitate resident or business owner communication with the appropriate Department, a Town Hall “Greeter” position was instituted in 2019, was discontinued per assessment of low use and in response to the pandemic, and then reinstated in 2022. III. KEY ISSUES MOVING FORWARD While the Town has made substantial progress since the 2018 Vision Plan, continued attention to enhanced communication, transparency, customer service, and identifying methods for engaging residents of all ages requires continued attention and efforts. Supporting small business was identified as a challenge during the Vision workshops, specifically zoning and permitting hurdles. The Government Study Committee recommended creating a consolidated “Inspectional Services Department” or a “Community Development Department”, which may help to serve small business interests and deliver more efficient customer service through consolidated permitting and inspections. Several communities across the Cape have moved toward some form of this consolidation model, but these departments are not without internal management challenges, and they provide no escape for the heavily regulated landscape in which we all live and do business. Although regular meetings of the Community Development Team (including Administration and Health, Housing, Building, Planning and Conservation/Natural Resources Departments) are held, the Town may want to further understand the successes, challenges, and benefits of a consolidated department model for Brewster. IV. BUILDING BLOCK GOAL Provide an inclusive Town government that encourages participation by all residents by engaging in two- way communication, expanding volunteer opportunities, and providing customer friendly service.