Why does Plymouth have such a lack of civic engagement at home, and what can be done to change that?
Jam session is an opinion forum offering comments on issues from a group of Plymouth residents. It appears on the Forum pages in the Weekend edition of the OCM.
The newspaper poses a question to the group each week, and participants choose whether to comment. This column is designed to bring the voices of well-informed residents into the Forum page to address issues, one at a time.
Participants cross the local political spectrum and live throughout the town. Some are current or past Town Meeting representatives, and all are active in the community. We hope their diverse points of view will encourage discussion of the issues Plymouth faces.
This week's question
A presidential election can bring out 70 percent or more of registered voters, while a local election - which decides local pocket book and quality of life issues - typically pulls 12-15 percent. Plymouth's Committee of Precinct Chairs is seeking answers to these questions: Why such lack of civic engagement at home, and what can be done to change that? What do you think?
To engage more citizens in civic affairs and to get out the vote, there has to be a catalyst. Remember the movie studio? What happened to all those people? We don't want a repeat of those broken dreams, but that promise of bigger and better things certainly brought people out to meetings.
When you know the candidates personally or you are passionate about a ballot question, it is easier to get involved and your enthusiasm spreads to those around you. The Committee of Precinct Chairs has 12 great suggestions, and I hope they all are implemented. Number one is personalization. I did not become involved until my children were effected by overcrowded schools back in the ’80s. It took the devastation of failed overrides to motivate me to attend meetings and pay attention to the candidates who supported good schools.
The League of Women Voters Candidates Night, the media held debates on cable and radio, and Karen Buech's and Matt Muratore's talk shows with Larry Pizer and voter advocates are good ways to engage the public. Early voting was a great success and I hope it is soon extended to all elections. Same day voter registration is another way to make voting easier, as well as more convenient polling places.
Contacting the voters personally is the most effective way to get out the vote. Call your friends and neighbors on voting day, Saturday, May 20, and urge them to vote. Please vote!
Pat Adelmann has been a Plymouth resident for 39 years and is a mother of five Plymouth Public School graduates, a proud grandmother of 12, a former School Committee member and a former Town Meeting representative.
Most likely they’re too busy looking down at their phones and posting on social media.
Most people don’t even know town meeting exists.
When I was a town meeting rep I tried to ensure that everyone who was an active voter in my pcecinct received a letter from me before the election. Now I couldn’t tell you who my reps are.
1. Government should be taught in schools. I spoke to a couple of honor students from Plymouth some years back and they stated they never heard of town meeting.
2. Town meeting reps and those that wish to be should contact the people they wish to represent. Voter and mailing lists can be obtained from town hall for a reasonable cost.
3. This is the hardest… the people must give a damn. Unfortunately, most people now support socialism. Group think and afraid to be an individual prevails.
4. Teach our students that we (the Pilgrims) tried socialism/communism here in Plymouth in our early days. We starved. It was only when we were given our own property and grew our own food that we prospered and had excess.
5. Have representatives of the different political parties have a forum at the schools to explain their different views.
6. Return to number 3. People must give a damn and stop being sheep.
Jay Beauregard, born and raised in Plymouth, served four years in the Marine Corps and has worked for 36 years at a local company. He is a Libertarian who served three terms as a Town Meeting rep from Precinct 6.
About 10 years ago, my son suggested I get on Facebook for my business. I didn't care at all about social media and thought it was a huge waste of time, like Bette White later said. I soon after set up the first of eight or nine Facebook pages, almost all of them for business, and quickly learned that it (and Linked-In) really work. Want political debate or opinions? A "Plymouth, What Do You Think?" page (or similar) set up by the town soliciting public opinion from residents would, I expect, get far more reaction than the town expects if the town uses it properly to gather opinion and if it acts on that opinion. It would also need to be promoted – on Facebook! I think people assume nothing is going on here so there's no point in voting. Again, using Facebook in this way might actually bring some meaningful results. Do it!
A Plymouth resident for more than 35 years, Jeff Berger is founder and owner of JMB Communications / websitesthatworkusa.com and everythingsxm.com, is a former member of Plymouth’s Nuclear Matters Committee and chairs the Cable Advisory Committee.
Unfortunately, voters don’t see the importance of local elections, but in recent years we have seen a move by a new crop of slick politicians on the local scene who sound as though they are the saviors and warriors of all that hurts us. You know the type. “I’ll axe the tax.” “Too many townies are wrong for Plymouth.” “I think we should re-license Pilgrim for a longer run.” One has suggested outsourcing all parts of local government to private contractors.
These are dangerous, inexperienced people, who have no understanding of the town, its history, it’s village system (each village has long range goals and strategic planning for its geography).
Another candidate recently suggested relocating the town center to The Pinehills, from it’s historic downtown, because it was the geographic center of Plymouth. An absurd idea, but one of many that comes up.
During the last selectmen race, one excellent and well serving incumbent who won in nearly all precincts was defeated by one precinct that was able to get a large majority of it’s voters out to support a candidate from their precinct. Very shortly the selectmen will set the sewer rate for all taxpayers. Whoever gets in in this election could be a deciding vote to the majority. Voters should ask themselves if they want a rate payer or a non-rate payer to represent them when that vote takes place. Do you want a representative you can trust because of their history as a proven leader in the community or one with a great catch phrase?
In some precincts there are incumbents running for precinct representative who haven’t shown up to represent you at Town Meeting, in some cases, for years. Look at their history, read the Town Report, Follow the Old Colony, attend meetings, but most of all, show up. Don’t let your precinct or your town down by believing that it doesn’t matter. All votes matter.
Mike Landers is a Town Meeting representative and is the founder and producer of Project Arts of Plymouth. He is also the owner of Nightlife Music Company and is a performing musician.
I think people were complacent, and that is about to change radically. Especially here in Plymouth with the pot thing a few weeks ago, and the ongoing saga of our failing, NRC Category 4, GE Mark 1 nuclear reactor still chugging away awaiting prompt decommissioning, people are starting to realize the importance of local elections, as we now know much of what happens in government moves from the ground up – local, state, national. In light of current events in DC, people now realize that their responsibility to support democracy begins at home. Indivisible Plymouth challenges Plymouth citizens to GET VOCAL – VOTE LOCAL, and take the challenge to get five friends to promise to vote on May 20. We’ve created a little voters’ guide that’s available at the Indivisible Plymouth Facebook page. Another thing you can do to increase engagement is print my poster, and pass it around.
Heidi Mayo is an award-winning author, artist and teacher of fine art. She has served on many boards including the Recycling Committee, Rising Tide Charter School, Plymouth Guild for the Arts, and PACTV, and is currently active with the League of Women Voters and the Patriots of Indivisible Plymouth.
There are many factors that result in Plymouth's abysmal turnout for local elections, including general voter apathy. But the biggest reason is our form of government. Town Meeting is outdated and lacks transparency. I challenge anyone to quickly tell me who their nine town meeting representatives are. I bet most voters don't event know that they have nine town meeting representatives.
When you look at communities with a different form of municipal government, the numbers go up. Braintree averages around 25 percent turnout, and Quincy is at 32 percent. Are those voters smarter than us? I don’t think so, but they are definitely more engaged. It's time to really think about why people are staying away from the polls and changing the structure that keeps them away. I'm not advocating for a strong mayor form of government. There are other options such as those in Barnstable or Worcester that could serve as models – perhaps something like nine wards with a councilor from each ward. This would provide a lot more accountability and encourage more voter participation.
Kevin O’Reilly grew up in Plymouth and is the executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce.
I was recently listening to a news piece about the mayoral race in Lawrence. Ten candidates are running. They’re holding rallies. People are flocking in droves to listen to the candidates speak, and the voters are very engaged.
Why? Because things have gone to hell in the city of Lawrence. Murders, drugs, crime. People are scared. People are angry. People want a mayor who is going to step up and fix things.
Here in Plymouth, things roll pretty well. Violent crime is rare. Our roads, though not perfect, are in overall decent shape. Our schools are really good. Our taxes, though they do go up from time to time, are a heck of a lot lower than they are in other South Shore coastal towns.
People don’t have a lot to complain about. Our biggest debate is whether to spread or concentrate the cost of repairs to the sewer. Other than that, life is good.
This sense of comfort in Plymouth lets folks live in bliss without a care who is holding the reins. I ran for selectman unsuccessfully a few years back. While reaching out to voters, the biggest question I got was, “What’s a selectman?”
If folks don’t know how our town government operates or is structured, they certainly aren’t going to know who the candidates are. And they’re not going to show up and vote for people they don’t know, running for positions they’re unfamiliar with.
Maybe that’s a good thing. Because if the voters aren’t unhappy enough to flock to the polls to demand change, maybe our leaders are doing a good job.
Doug O’Roak is creative director at C/F Data Systems, a member of the Open Space and Charter Review committees and a Town Meeting rep. He has served on several boards and committees and is past master of Plymouth’s Masonic Lodge.
Life for many these days is white water rapids without paddles, the least lustrous the murky, swirling pool of local politics where things do really matter because they are the little things each of us really can change. Most of us are working class heroes, no time, or youth challenging hope, trudging on, trying to make the most they can of a somehow more difficult world than we were left.
Why vote? It won’t make any difference. The hell you say. Try changing the world in one fell swoop. It don’t work. It is step at a time, person at a time, sphere to sphere, all at once that change the world. At the core of all politics rules. Our entire existence can change on a vote. We need to vote, otherwise destiny is out of control.
We have freedom to choose. It wouldn’t be right to make a law to make people vote. But then there’s privilege, like driving. Screw up, no drive. So here’s the privilege deal: No vote, no drink. No vote, no pot. No vote, no sinning. In all probability anybody excluded in the heretofore is already a voter. I bet we could push a 90 percent turnout.
Randy Parker is a principal at Land Management Systems and is a registered professional land surveyor. He serves as a town meeting representative and member of the Manomet Village Steering Committee. He was a member of the Growth Management Study Committee, chaired the Manomet Task Force and Steering Committee and was the founding president of the Simes House Foundation. He is a founding member of the nonprofit Manomet Village Common Inc. and serves as a director.
Two questions here: one is voter turnout in local elections, and the second is involvement/engagement (or lack of it) with local town governance. On the first, if local elections were held on the same day as national (or even broad statewide) elections, we would get far higher turnout. This is something I personally have been investigating, and have found there are a variety of legislative challenges, such as state law and our own charter language, which would need to change. But that calls the second question into focus. Do we want a higher turnout of citizens who are apathetic and unengaged about local issues, who would not be casting an informed vote? That is our real challenge, to get far more caring about what is happening locally, to pay attention, and then to get out to vote. Some precincts do this well, witness Pinehills recently and, historically, North Plymouth. Perhaps one idea would be to make as a graduation requirement that high school students do community service that would include attending one or more meetings of an elected or appointed town board. The Boy Scouts do this, and I recall Boston College High School (and others) have some kind of community engagement obligation. That could get the next generation exposed to town governance, and develop a habit of participation in local affairs wherever they live.
David Peck is the retired director of Facility Planning at Boston Children's Hospital. He serves as the chairman of the Plymouth Building Committee and vice-chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals. He is a Town Meeting representative from Precinct 4.