Vol. III No. 22 11/15/2022
From the Desk of the Town Administrator
SU invited our Town Administrator to fill us in on a new process. In work sessions, not open to the public, he is seeking consensus among the boards, commissions, and committees before bringing a matter to Town Meeting (TM). SU asked about pluses and minuses and thanks the Town Administrator for taking the time to explain.
Consensus in Government
by Michael Canales
I hope we can agree that local policymaking is complex. Policymaking is often undervalued and misunderstood, yet it's a central role in any town. The policies created locally often affect everyone in the community in some way. Elected and appointed town officials have public policy-making responsibilities. They set the policies, then the employees administer the policies.
Public policy often impacts more than just one board or commission. So, the question is how do we come to an agreement? We attempt to come to agreement through a consensus of the boards and committees involved. Consensus helps to shape a vision for more effective and efficient governance. A local traditional example is the annual budget process. It begins at the department level, through various boards and commissions before ending with the Finance Committee and Select Board. Throughout the process, the various boards and committees try to come to a consensus on the budget. The decisions are far more likely to be supported if it is generated by the process of consensus-building.
The policy-making process weighs and balances public values. Often there is no single "right" choice or correct technical answer to the question at hand. That is why the policy-making process can evoke strong opinions and sometimes heated debates. Through consensus building, we can try to develop a policy or decision that can be clearly articulated to the voters.
The best policies are those driven by a strategy. What is the problem we are trying to address? What is the goal we are trying to incentivize? Finding a consensus through open and honest discussions are far more likely to be supported, even by those who might prefer a different outcome, if generated by the process of consensus building. To be honest, I did not think I was changing tradition but keeping with tradition.
Photo: Joan Gallos