Volunteer boards and commissions deserve respect

Following the holidays while life begins to get back to normal is a good time to acknowledge those residents who work as volunteers on behalf of their towns. Our BOW communities rely heavily on the labor of volunteer board and commission members. Whether elected or appointed, these dedicated residents carry out the town's business day in and day out, throughout the year. It is their commitment that makes small town government so successful.

Board and commission members commit themselves to extraordinary endeavors; providing the best education for our children; managing multi-million dollar budgets; caring for the needs of our seniors; planning for our growth and development; and protecting the quality of our environment - to name a few.

These volunteers contribute their time to town service generously. It is not just the one or two monthly meetings. There are subcommittee meetings, field inspections, classroom observations and the list goes on.

Whether education, environment or some other, board and commission members must study and know about their particular subject area. They must have a through knowledge of the regulations, be familiar with the state and federal laws and be kept abreast of issues that can affect their decisions.

They must also have a respect for and understanding of people, the patience to explain their positions clearly and repeatedly and a willingness to listen in return.

Certain commissions require special training and skills. It takes time to acquire this knowledge and experience. And some commissioners seek training far above and beyond the minimum in order to improve their ability to serve their towns.

Much of this effort goes unremarked. Who knows how many Saturdays and evenings are given up for field inspections or how many evenings and weekends are devoted to classes. Those who come before the boards and commissions don't know. And all too often, town leaders and even new commission members don't appreciate the time, energy and commitment that have been put into training by some individuals.

In return for their labors, our boards and commission members deserve respect. Respect from those who come before them with a problem or a request. Respect from fellow commission members. And respect from the elected officials who lead our towns. It is all too easy for a town official, for example, to undermine the authority and credibility of a board or commission.

Obviously town officials should be attentive and responsive to residents, but if one begins to accept complaints directly, rather than going through their boards and commissions, a risky situation could develop. Residents then know they can do an end run around any decision and the boards and commissions know their autonomy and decision-making ability are weakened. This sort of situation can threaten the integrity of a town's government and zap the motivation to serve out of board and commission members.