Essex Governance Group

Essex Explores Voting Possibilities and Civic Engagement

Town and Village residents, concerned citizens, elected officials, and young and
old, turned out at Essex High School on Saturday Nov. 8 for “Dine & Discuss: Essex Democracy and You,” a forum about how the Essex community votes and how to increase citizen participation.

In lively small-group discussions, about 60 people worked together to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by the current voting methods used by both the Village and the Town, explore possible new methods, and brainstorm how to improve overall public engagement. The forum was hosted by the Essex Governance Group (EGG), a project supported by the Town of Essex, Heart & Soul of Essex, and the Orton Family Foundation

The forum was the next step in a six-month process that was initiated in the summer, when Budget to Ballot (B2B)—a group of residents concerned about low turnout at Town and Village annual meetings—approached the Town Selectboard and Village Trustees about moving budget approval from the traditional Town/Village Meeting format to Australian ballot (ballot-box voting).

Now coming together, along with other interested citizens, as the Essex Governance Group, the group’s collective goal was to research and analyze residents’ feelings and practices around voting and public engagement, research voting methods used in other communities, and explore additional ways to improve citizen participation.

After a series of meetings to determine the scope of the project and the voting methods to be researched, the group issued an online survey during October. Over 450 residents of Essex Town and Village participated in the survey, and provided a great deal of information about current voting and civic

At the Saturday Dine & Discuss event, EGG members shared and discussed the results of the community survey. Led by facilitators Susan Clark and Susan McCormack, the group learned about current governance in the Town and the Village, and then spent time weighing the benefits and challenges of four different voting methods: Town Meeting and Australian Ballot, which are currently in use in Essex; Representative Town Meeting, which is used in Brattleboro, VT and in Massachusetts; and a Meeting- Ballot Hybrid approach used in New Hampshire called SB2.

In the coming weeks the group will compile and analyze the large amount of feedback residents provided at the forum. The survey data, forum feedback, and research on various voting methods will be included in a report the group will submit to the Selectboard, Village Trustees, and public at the end of the year. In that report the group will make recommendations for how both municipalities can increase citizen participation and transparency, as well as specific recommendations for organizing the Town and Village’s voting opportunities for maximum citizen participation.

The final report will be publicized through the media, social media and Front Porch Forum, and at  www.heartandsoulofessex.org

More information and graphics:

EGG survey results

Infographic on how Essex and Essex Junction are governed

Infographic on how Essex and Essex Junction currently vote

What’s Next? You decide.

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ABOUT HEART & SOUL OF ESSEX

Heart and Soul of Essex from Kayhl Cooper on Vimeo.

4 thoughts on “Essex Governance Group

  1. Judy Tiplady

    Hi, Thank you for being a part of our inservice and getting the word out about your project. I just wanted to touch base with you about an activity that the second grade team, our school librarian and I have come up with for this years K-12 showcase. We will be taking the book Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet and create our own version of the Macy Day Parade using the community theme with each student creating a paper mache balloon representing our student diversity. We plan to have them on display at the K-12 showcase as well as our second grade sharing evening. Judy Tiplady, art educator, Hiawatha School.

    Reply
  2. Liz Subin

    Thanks for sharing, Judy. Sounds great! We would love to come photograph and/or video your process and be part of the conversation around community. Just let us know!

    Reply
  3. sue kurek

    Your organization sounds great! Have you explored starting a community garden? Making the Essex community healthier with extending bike and walking paths to lace our communities together, would also be wonderful. These endeavors would allow for increased positive interaction between our residents of all ages.

    It would be great if our community would be known a a green community versus two communities that seem to not get along. Moving here from out of state I am still amazed at the fracture between the 2 communities. Together, Essex and Essex Center could really do some wonderful things.

    Thank you for all of the positive energy your organization has given to our community!
    Sue

    P.S. A charging station, for electric cars, placed over by the railroad depot would be a great perk for the community!

    Reply
    1. Susan McCormack Post author

      Hi Sue – thanks for your note. Great ideas! Your thoughts are well aligned with what we heard during the Neighborhood Conversations. Shortly, we will be announcing the results of those conversations and provide an opportunity for community members to weigh in on the shared values we uncovered, and offer action ideas through a brief survey. We’ll be sharing everyone’s ideas with our project partners and community leaders and will be providing an opportunity for the whole community to review these and set priorities for the future. Please check back soon for details.

      Reply

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