On October 12, 2017, the LWV Wellesley hosted its first ever Wellesley Meet-Up: Informal discussions with your elected town officials at the Hills Branch Library from 7-9:30 pm. The event was attended by members of every elected town board and committee as well as the Moderator and Town Clerk. All residents were invited to attend this "speed dating"-style event where residents were asked to spend about 15 minutes with a board or committee of interest and then move to another to allow many people to ask questions and encourage mixing between the boards and residents. Many thanks go to Ann-Mara Lanza, Vice President, LWV Wellesley Program Planning and Development, and her team for proposing and organizing this event.
Cathy Brauner, the Editor of the Wellesley Townsman, dedicated her October 19 editorial to the League's first meet-up:
"Anyone who has ever attended a board or committee meeting hoping to get an answer to a question knows how frustrating that experience can be. Sometimes the board has a long agenda and limited time for Citizen Speak. Or the question, while important to the questioner, may seem off-topic for the evening's discussion. Or just the idea of having to stand up in front of an audience waiting expectantly - and maybe impatiently - for the question to be asked can be intimidating.
That's why the meet-up organized by the League of Women Voters of Wellesley last week seems like a keeper. The League invited the representatives of the town's boards and committees, plus the town moderator and town clerk, to spend an evening at the Hills Branch Library and talk one-on-one with any constituents who had questions or ideas of any kind. The Hills Branch doesn't have a fancy meeting room; it has a fireplace and a little balcony, and can perhaps best be described as cozy. The officials crowded into tables labeled with their board's name. The idea was that participants could move from table to table every 15 minutes or so, loading up with refreshments en route. As it turned out, there were more officials than residents at this first-ever meet-up, but it was clear from the buzz in the room that just having these officials get together and exchange information was useful. If these meet-ups become permanent, the word will spread and more constituents will take the opportunity to ask their questions, whether serious or silly.
In June, the School Committee initiated something similar - "office hours" at the library where people could come in and talk to one or two committee members.
We hope that these kinds of initiatives will continue. It's a little more work for people who may already be volunteering a huge amount of their time - just bear in mind the commitment required of those working on the controversial and complicated HHU (Hardy/Hunnwell/Upham) decisions.
But the ability for people to come in and get a firsthand explanation of what's going on and why can save a lot of future confusion and even hostility. Yes, email is quicker and more convenient, but it cannot leave the questioner with the same sense that a meet-up can: My voice is finally being heard.
Constituents may not leave the meet-up agreeing with everything or even anything the officials they talked to had to say, but at least they will know who to turn to the next time they have a question."
Those attending the Meet-Up enjoyed delicious local apples donated by the Wellesley Farmers' Market which features local produce from more than 40 New England-area farms and is now available online. The Wellesley Farmers' Market now has expanded offerings and an extended season and continues to serve the Wellesley Food Pantry clientele.