Concord is well known for its action-packed political history, as the site of the famed “shot heard round the world.”
It’s unsurprising, therefore, that Concordians keep the spirit of democracy and self-determination alive today through active participation in local government. Select Board Chair Matt Johnson estimates that over 300 residents serve on town boards and committees to date.
“We have tremendous civic engagement in Concord and we rely upon it,” he said.
Town Manager Kerry LaFleur added, “I’m proud to work in a community that regularly engages so many citizen volunteers to offer their time and talents to making Concord a better place to live, work and visit,” she said. “Committee work in Concord has had a significant impact on Concord’s effort towards sustainability, climate action, preservation, recreation, affordable housing and more.” She added that town staff provide essential administrative support to these groups. “It truly is a team effort.”
Residents are so active, in fact, that as many as 18 committee meetings took place on a given day in 2021 per the town’s annual report. The roughly 60 boards, committees and commissions carry out myriad functions to keep the town moving: from deciding how best to allocate funds, to preserving natural areas and planning cultural events. But with so much happening, how can those looking to wet their feet in local government get started?
Johnson recommends perusing the town website for a complete list of boards and committees and attending their scheduled meetings, which are open to all residents and often accessible via Zoom. Past meetings are also available on YouTube through Minuteman Media Network.
Those looking to deepen their involvement may seek a membership position on their committee of choice. Members typically serve three to five-year terms, and the level of responsibility and expertise required for service falls on a “spectrum” depending on the committee, Johnson said.
“We’re really fortunate to have so much talent among our residents, but you don’t need to have a particular background to get involved… if you have passion and willingness to contribute that’s what we’re especially looking for,” Johnson said.
LaFleur noted that “ looking ahead to the 250th Celebration, there are a multitude of ways to be involved, including development, events, programming, and community engagement.”
Residents seeking to serve can start by completing an online volunteer card on the town website. The clerk’s office then funnels this information to the board or committee directly, or to the Select Board, which oversees a number of the groups, Select Board member Henry Dane said. A Select Board Liaison may then interview the candidate before formally nominating them at a public board meeting. This step allows the public to weigh in on the candidate, however Dane said this rarely happens. Finally, the board may vote to appoint the member, who is then sworn in at the town clerk’s office.
Dane encouraged those interested to reach out directly to the group’s chairperson or the Select Board Liaison and attend events in person whenever possible. For him, building relationships is just as important as managing town business.
“There needs to be a social element in the political process,” he said, “the committees are part of building a community… we need to get more of that.”