The New London Board of Selectmen recently received a letter from the Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, an important regional organization that I have mentioned before in this column (for more information, go to www.UVLSRPC.org). The letter sought an appointment from New London to serve on a committee to study a regional solution to the ongoing problem household hazardous waste.
If you are interested in serving New London on a regional committee to study household hazardous waste, please let me know. If you are interested in participating in the broader context of regional discussions, we are looking for a second representative from New London to join Peter Stanley as a Commissioner to the UVLSRPC.
We learned from former Town Moderator Cotton Cleveland years ago that the best way to find interested volunteers is to ask, and the best way to keep them is to thank them. In her 2002 article on municipal volunteerism that appeared in Town & City Magazine published by the NH Local Government Center (www.nhlgc.org), Cotton wrote "Without sufficient quality volunteers, town government comes to a screeching halt." New London, like most towns and cities, relies heavily on the time and dedication given by the volunteers who serve myriad roles.
In 2005, in response to public criticism that the Board of Selectmen had not done enough to bring "fresh blood" onto town boards and committees, the Selectmen developed a volunteer appointment process. Mostly geared towards the changeover that occurs around Town Meeting time, the process includes advertising positions with terms ending (there are no term limits in New London), seeking applications from interested citizens (applications are on the Town’s website at www.nl-nh.com/volunteer), and holding brief interviews between the Board of Selectmen and the volunteer candidates.
While this process can be offensive to returning volunteers who feel that their service to the Town is not understood or respected, it gives the Board of Selectmen a chance to converse with new and long-serving candidates, to thank people for their willingness to participate in local government, and to weigh the benefits of new perspectives against knowledge and experience. Since the Board of Selectmen as a whole often does not interact with some of the other boards, the volunteer interviews are a good opportunity to discuss priorities and exchange ideas.
People are aware, for the most part, of the commitment of the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, School Board, and Zoning Board of Adjustment, whose regular meetings require advanced preparation, institutional knowledge, and an understanding of local ordinances and state laws. For these boards, the whole is better than the sum of its parts; as individuals, members of these boards can exercise little power or independence.
Some volunteer roles, on the other hand, often require more time outside of meetings than in, such as the Conservation Commission, Recreation Commission and Energy Committee, where individual members carry out assignments between meetings. Conservation Commission members maintain our amazing network of trails and foot bridges; Energy Committee members have written grant applications and initiated visible energy-conservation projects.
Some positions are more visible than others. We interact with election workers – the Moderator, Assistant Moderators, Ballot Clerks, and Supervisors of the Checklist – at spring and fall elections, yet few people witness the work of the Tree Warden (nurturing our future) or of the Archives Committee (nurturing our past) in the basement of the Town Office.
Unless your lives are touched by them, most people are unaware of the time put in by volunteers who serve in individual capacities, such as our volunteer firefighters, the Emergency Management Director, the Welfare Officer, and the Health Officer, whose positions require weekly responsibilities in New London and are often filled by regular paid staff in other towns. Not only do these positions reduce the workload and often the number of paid staff, but by virtue of being volunteers they bring a benevolent, community-first approach to their roles.
We were touched by the outpouring of volunteers during the December 2008 ice storm. When it was all over, the list of volunteers exceeded 140 names from the entire region. Incidentally, as we must be ever-prepared for another similar emergency, the Emergency Management Committee is looking for a citizen or two who would like to serve as shelter coordinators. If you are interested in this important role in planning and responding to an emergency, please let me know.
Cotton Cleveland, who gave a local footnote to the social capital theme, wrote "Our New Hampshire towns need strong leaders to help integrate diverse volunteer interests and to constructively channel these interests in a manner consistent with the community needs for stronger social capital and better run government."
We could not be the town that we are without the dedicated and passionate work of our volunteers. Thank you for your gifts to your community.
Jessie Levine, Town
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