Topsham Government Improvement Committee seeks more input

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TOPSHAM — The Government Improvement Committee is reviewing surveys from more than 100 people at Town Meeting last month and hopes to survey a broader spectrum of residents.

Committee member John Rensenbrink said on Monday that the Town Meeting surveys were a first step, while a modified version has gone home to parents of students and is available at and, in the future, at the municipal building.

“That’s a variety of ways in which we want to get the attention of the people in Topsham,” Rensenbrink said.

The first question on the Town Meeting survey asked whether the respondents attended the meeting on a regular basis. Seventy said yes, 31 said no, and five were attending for the first time, Rensenbrink reported.

Asked what factors affected people’s attendance at Town Meeting, 48 mentioned conflicting obligations; 34 said the meetings are too long; 30, personal time limitations; 15, the time of the meetings; eight, a lack of understanding of the Town Meeting process; 14, the number of warrant articles; 12, a lack of interest in the discussions; and 15, a lack of information available on issues prior to the meeting.

May was the most popular month for the meeting, with 49 votes; March received 13, April two, and “other” had four. Seventy people wanted the meeting held on a weekday evening, 22 on Saturday and seven on Sunday.

Sixty-one of the respondents have not served on a town board, committee of other activity, while 41 have. Sixty-two were not interested in a community-building activity like a bean supper, and 36 were in favor.

Suggested improvements to improve Town Meeting included getting more young people to attend or help out, having secret ballot votes on certain issues, earlier starting times, starting on time, shortened meeting lengths, the use of layman’s terms to explain warrant articles, better food and drink, specialized Town Meetings by issues and limiting long-winded speakers.

One suggestion that may be near and dear to people’s hearts, as well as their posteriors, was for more comfortable seating.

Rensenbrink said his group would gather the survey results over the summer and review it in the fall. In the meantime, the committee is interviewing town staff, committee members, members of the former Charter Commission and other community leaders about ways to improve Topsham’s government, as well as discussing a code of conduct and recall provisions.

Improvements to Town Meeting prompted by the survey’s input should help attendance, Rensenbrink said, “but our chief concern there is to really enable people to participate effectively and feel that they are participating effectively.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.