Ashleigh Blake: Engaging the Public


Citizen News, October 7, 2015. Since announcing my candidacy for Selectman, the most frequent question I am asked is, “Why do you want to get involved in town government?” So, what is it that draws one to take on a leadership role in our community?

When I first moved to Sherman I was asked by a fellow resident if I would consider becoming a member of the Sherman Conservation
Commission. I said, “Yes.“ I soon found myself involved in many
Sherman organizations. Like so many other Sherman residents who
answer the call of volunteerism, I am an everyday resident who decided
to help the town through serving on boards and commissions. I have
attended many town and commission meetings over the years and have
at times thought that there is room for improvement.

When one sees such a need he or she can:

  • do nothing,
  • stand on the sidelines and criticize, or
  • roll up his or her sleeves and jump in to better the situation.

I have always been inspired to follow the example of those who choose the latter. My decision to become more deeply involved in our town, to take a leadership role, is not one that I take lightly. The decision has arrived by what I see as an opportunity for town leadership to do better in many areas, one being improved communication with our citizens.

Good leadership actively engages the public by constantly soliciting
and encouraging involvement. In our small town, strong lines of
communication should always be more important than strong party
lines. All views, even opposing ones, can lend needed perspective to an
issue. As Selectman, I will work to be sure that the public is better
informed on the business of our town government and our town in
general. I will look to have meeting agendas and pertinent event
information better communicated to you, the citizens of our town. It is
my belief that a more informed public will be a more involved public and through this increased involvement, Sherman will become a
stronger community in many positive ways. A recent example of the
need for better communication occurred this past Saturday. I was
dismayed to see that an important meeting on the health of Candlewood Lake was poorly attended. The meeting. contained a plethora of valuable information from a panel of experts in addition to an informative Q&A. The lack of public attendance stood out as an area of needed improvement.

During my three years as president of the Sherman Parent Teacher
Organization I worked tirelessly on “e-blasts” (a weekly informational
mass e-mail using Constant Contact) to get as much pertinent
information out to the parents as possible. I took the sharing of
information very seriously, often staying up into the early morning
hours to be sure as much information as possible was included before
that week’s deadline. Time and again parents mentioned how helpful
these communications were in keeping them up to date on a wide
variety of events, topics and policy changes. Through allowing parents
to feel more deeply vested and involved in the school, this service also
helped the SPTO to cultivate the volunteer base that is needed to run a
successful organization. A similar model could be set up with an “opt-
in” link on the town website. Citizens could sign up for a timely
emailing of important facts and upcoming dates allowing the opportunity for greatly improved public participation in shaping our town.

Sherman, as a whole, will do better when we all know more, take a
deeper interest, and get involved. The impetus and desire to do this
needs to come from the top, from our town leaders. So, in short, the
best answer to the question of “why do you want to get involved in
town government” is because I hope to get you more involved too.