Sudbury residents want transparency and open dialog regarding topics that matter most to them.
Did they get it on Jan. 23 when the Board of Selectmen hosted the first-ever Town Forum, which was attended by dozens of residents who packed in Town Hall?
"I think it was a great success," Selectman Bob Haarde said. "People don't usually come to our selectmen meetings but it was a great showing last night."
The Town Forum was a result of Article 41 that passed during last year's Town Meeting. It was spearheaded by former selectman candidate Dan DePompei. The article states Sudbury will hold an open, public meeting for constructive engagement.The forum was scheduled for 2 1/2 hours, but because of one topic (Bruce Freeman Rail Trail), it lasted much longer.
Resident Pat Brown, a member of the Planning Board who was in attendance, applauded the efforts of the Selectmen.
"I thought the forum was generally a success," she said. "I really appreciate the work Selectman (Chuck) Woodard put in to define, organize, and stage this event, and the work Dan De Pompei put in to bring Article 41 to the 2013 Town Meeting to make this happen."
The forum was designed after Lincoln's annual "State of the Town" meeting. It allowed discussion of the Selectmen's goals for the year. Each goal was presented by one selectman over five-minute periods.
The Selectmen also rotated as moderators.
Residents who couldn't attend were able to watch it live on Sudbury TV and submit questions via email."As a Selectman, it was great for me to hear from people," Haarde said. "The meetings I appreciate the most are the ones when Sudbury residents show up and tell us what they want for our town."
Woodard also deemed the forum successful.
"(It was a) good turnout at Town Hall," he said. "Lots of questions and comments."
But because of the length of the forum, some felt a change in format may be needed next year.
"We should do it more often. We should pick just a few topics, not 15, and do it quarterly," Haarde said. "I had a good feeling walking out of there last night. I felt like people showed up, they cared and want to see some things done."
"For next year I hope to see fewer topics (maybe four?) treated in more depth," she said. "Any topic in which there was limited or no discussion could have been presented as a page of text, perhaps with slides, online."
Brown also disagreed in the order of presentations, which did not match the list of the Selectmen goals.
"(It) should match the order in the supporting document; we should have distributed a 'Selectmen's Goals For The Forum' document listing the exact wording of the goals, but in the order they would be presented," she said. "We need a defined way to record questions which require further investigation and to disseminate the final responses to the community at large."
Resident Stan Kaplan agreed the forum was successful and the format was easier to digest compared to agenda items for regular Selectmen meetings.
"I think having one (forum), if it's focused and it's designed to be brief, i think that is a refreshing approach to me," he said. "There's plenty of time for all of the other issues to sift through the Selectmen meetings. To focus on what is thought to be the central issues at the moment is refreshing and gives weight to the issues that are more important than others."
Overall, Selectman Len Simon said he felt the forum served Sudbury very well.
"We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time," he said. "We were able to talk about several important topics. It was lively, and it gave people an opportunity to hear that. There's nothing like having give-and-take with dialog."