Municipal Bulletin Board
(from the July 2009 Maine Townsman)

CITIZEN EDUCATION

Last fall, MMA embarked on a Citizen Education Program aimed at creating greater citizen understanding of, participation in, and appreciation for Maine local government.

A Citizen Education Working Group of the MMA Executive Committee and MMA staff worked with a communications and marketing consultant to develop a logo and brand for the program. A decision was made to spend the first year of the program working with five pilot communities who would identify citizen education projects that they wanted to work on.

In January of this year, the following five communities were selected to participate in the program during 2009: Ellsworth, Liberty, Milford, Saco and St. Albans. This spring, MMA staff went to each of these communities and met with elected and administrative officials to welcome them to the pilot community phase of the program and to get them thinking about a project they could undertake this year.

On April 28, representatives of all five pilot communities met in Augusta with MMA staff and two members of the Citizen Education Working Group to brainstorm on some ideas for pilot community projects. Each community selected a project to work on.

The City of Ellsworth is looking at ways to make their current citizen communications more effective. MMA staff has been evaluating their website communications. Recently, the city launched streaming video of council and other board meetings on its website. Ellsworth has a great relationship with the regional technical college which has a TV station and their local chamber of commerce. MMA’s communications staff have been exploring alternatives for other communities to cost-effectively utilize video and website technology.

The Town of Liberty has been working for several months on increasing volunteerism and volunteer opportunities in their community, both for town-sponsored activities as well as non-profit organizations in the town and region. Town officials have had two meetings over the past several months to develop strategies for accomplishing this goal. Several ideas have surfaced to promote more volunteerism and town officials are actively evaluating and implementing them.

Town officials in Milford have wanted to get more involved in local civic education. A couple of months ago, the town manager contacted the local school superintendent and came away from that conversation encouraged that a dialogue had been started with an initial positive response from the school administration. Unfortunately, the superintendent recently announced that he was taking a job with a new school system, so we are re-grouping on this project.

The City of Saco is also interested in civic education; however, their goal is directed more at the recent high school graduates and other “early adults” who have limited knowledge of city services and how to use them. MMA has shared some information about “Citizens’ Academies” with Saco officials and we are still exploring this concept with them to see if it might work to help them accomplish their citizen education goal.

The Town of St. Albans has a very straight-forward citizen education goal. Town Manager Rhonda Stark wants to create a new town seal/logo. MMA staff met with Rhonda in early June and discussed different ideas for how this project would be accomplished. The town recently started planning for a bicentennial celebration in 2013. Even though this celebration is four years away, it was felt that the planning and development of a town seal/logo would more effectively be accomplished if it was tied to this important historic event.

As part of this year’s MMA Convention, a session is being planned about the MMA Citizen Education Program and the experiences of the five pilot communities. For more information regarding the MMA Citizen Education Program, contact Michael Starn, Director of Communications & Educational Services, at MMA; mstarn@memun.org or 1-800-452-8786 ext 2221.