Six Suggestions for Shorter Brattleboro Selectboard Meetings

Selectboard meetings can drag on. Meetings that start at 6:15 pm often end after 9 pm. It’s not as bad as the record-setting meeting of the mid-aughts that lasted well past midnight, but three hours is a long regular meeting, especially when board members may have met for an hour prior in Executive Session.

When meetings go on too long, participants lose energy and the quality of debate and discussion drops. Important issues can get rushed if they come late on an agenda.

Here are some suggestions for speeding up Brattleboro Selectboard meetings.

1. Have 3 Meetings a Month, Not 2

If we assume two 3-hour meetings a month currently to take care of town business, that’s six hours of town business. Divide it over three meetings and you end up with three 2-hour meetings instead. Much more manageable meeting lengths.

2. Stop Reading Memos – Answer Questions

As things stand now, much of the time spent presenting information at meetings consists of a staff member reading or summarizing a previously written memo. Some staff, however, skip this and simply say “I’ve included a memo, do you have any questions?” and it saves a lot of time. Refer everyone to the details in the memo and spend meeting time answering questions.

3. No “Big Discussions” After 8pm

I’ve rarely seen a very productive discussion after 8pm on any major issue. I’ve seen important discussions start well after 8pm, but selectboard members, the public, and the media are all getting tired. Often people then become “polite,” not wishing to waste anyone’s time, and the “big discussion” becomes abbreviated or rushed. Once it hits 8pm, switch to agenda items that require little discussion. Better yet, be done and go home!

4. Bulk-approve Grants

In over 15 years of selectboard meetings, I don’t recall any significant issues with grants be approved or accepted. This suggests there’s no real need to address each one individually. Instead, an agenda item to approve all grants could be substituted. If there were any questions or comments, they could come up under this single topic.

5. Bulk-approve Project Bids

Bids for projects could be grouped into a single agenda item to speed things up. As with grants, if there are any questions or comments, they could be brought up under this single agenda item.

6. Don’t “Give Time To Advertise” New Establishments

The selectboards of recent years have gotten into a habit of telling new applicants for various liquor or tobacco permits that they should come upo to the table and take advantage of free advertising to tell everyone about their business. It’s a nice, friendly thing to do, but it isn’t necessary and wastes time. It’s questionable whether BCTV is allowed to air “free advertisements” anyway, and it is slightly unfair. Must one sell liquor or tobacco to get free promotion by the Town? Where is the offer of free promotion to businesses that don’t sell these items? Just skip it. It’s a permit.

These suggestions are intended to help lead to more efficient and productive meetings.

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