Communication a primary goal for Freeport council

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FREEPORT — The Town Council put a lot of emphasis on communication and citizen engagement during a goal-setting discussion held this week.

Councilors on Tuesday settled on four goals they want to achieve in 2016. At the meeting, councilors also passed a resolution to send a letter to President Obama regarding carbon emissions.

For the first goal, councilors said they want to prioritize and evaluate the need for each line item as they work through the budget next year. They didn’t set a specific percentage increase they want to stay under, but said they want to present a fair budget to residents.

The second goal is working on council communication and efficiency, with councilors saying they want to increase transparency in their work. They also said they want to make sure all councilors come to meetings prepared and informed on the issues they will be discussing.

The councilors also talked about their role as councilors. They said a town councilor can be whoever he or she wants to be within the role, meaning they can be more of an activist or they can be nonpartisan.

Another goal is engaging citizens in decision-making. The councilors said they want to increase residents’ involvement by continuing to hold workshops, consistently replaying meetings on the town’s cable channel and through information in the town manager’s report.

Councilors said they also want to put more information in local newspapers regarding big issues and upcoming meetings where those issues will be discussed. They said they want more people to be aware of the agendas and schedules so more residents come to meetings and participate.

Councilors said the town website needs to be looked at as well, especially the way documents are stored. Documents related to issues can be found on the town calender attached to the day on which that issue was discussed at a meeting. The councilors said it is hard for residents to find information on particular issues unless they know the dates they were discussed.

Councilors acknowledged that redesigning the website to make documents more easily accessible would be a challenge, both technically and financially. 

Regarding the third goal, Council Chairwoman Melanie Sachs brought up an idea she said Councilor Kristina Egan had a few years ago. She proposed setting aside a couple thousand dollars in the budget and asking residents what they want to spend it on. Egan on Tuesday called it participatory budgeting, and said it would be a good way to involve residents in town spending. Other councilors agreed, but nothing official was decided.

The fourth goal the councilors have is continuing to work on their relationship with the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors. They said they want to continue improving their communication with the board, which they worked on last year following the failure of Freeport’s RSU 5 withdrawal vote.

Sachs said although there is no major issue this year, having a strong relationship with the RSU 5 board is important, and a slower year is a good time to work on that connection. She said the goal is “not crisis-driven, it’s just important.”

Councilors will discuss the goals again at a later meeting and define them more clearly, as well as set ways to measure them.

An additional goal about climate change was also discussed, but the council decided the issue was too broad for goal-setting. They did decide to hold a workshop on the topic to see what can be done to increase the town’s sustainability.

The council also resolved to send a letter urging President Obama to “commit to reducing carbon emissions at the national and global level.” The letter also informs Obama of the work of the Solarize Freeport project.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.