Steve Schneider is the Executive Director of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission and former town manager of Einfield, N.H. He brings a grounded perspective to municipal management, regional planning, and economic development. We cover many topics in this conversation including:
- The comparison and transition between towns with and without professional management.
- The role of a select board in overseeing a town manager.
- Why and how town managers strive to remain apolitical.
- The obstacles he faced as a manager and the environment of municipal management in the State of N.H.
- How he came to transition to his role at the RPC.
- The function of Planning Commissions and how towns can best utilize them.
- Why the process of putting together a Master Plan can be as important as the Plan itself.
- What major challenges and accomplishments he has experienced during his time at the RPC.
Other resources mentioned in this conversation:
- International City/County Managers Association
- NH Municipal Managers Association
- University of Vermont Public Administration Program
- NH Municipal Association
- N.H. Department of Revenue Administration
- N.H. Association of Regional Planning Commissions
Here is the transcript of the audio, with minimal editing for clarity and grammar.
Can you describe some of the differences between towns that have managers and those that don’t?
Schneider: Well you mentioned that they’re thousands of people that kind of struggle with how to govern at a local level, and I think there is a difference between communities that have a professional manager and those that don’t. And so hopefully, those communities that have either town administrators or town managers, that individual should be the resource to kind of orient and help newly elected and appointed officials to their boards and/or commissions and committees. You know, when you get into those towns that are smaller and lack kind of the central leader, it can be a struggle, there is no doubt about it. The town I managed recently, Einfield is a part of a 5-town school district. Einfield and Canaan both have professional management; Dorchester, Orange and Grafton do not.
You can cut out Dorchester and Orange at 300 people each, it would be tough to kind of justify the expense. Grafton has maybe 15-1600 people, and you can kind of tell that they don’t necessarily struggle, but they don’t necessarily move along at a pace that a community that has a professional manager or administrator on board. You know the managers and the administrators they are a tight group and they communicate with each other frequently. There is an online listserv where we will constantly bounce off ideas of each other and say, “Hey, has anybody dealt with this issue? I’m looking for an RFP on this particular thing.” and you’ll get responses immediately from a handful of your colleagues and so that’s helpful.
That’s a resource for those communities that have management. I don’t know that there is a resource for those communities that don’t and that is the struggle. New Hampshire is a strong manager state in that the communities from, I think, either Portsmouth or Concord are the two biggest communities that have managers down to the very small. So it’s a concept that is common in New Hampshire. However, there are those folks that perhaps can’t quite justify the expense yet. And so it does impact how institutional knowledge gets transferred.
Do you have any examples of towns that went from non-Manager to Manager and what that process looks like?
Schneider: I was the second Manager at Einfield and the one before me was there for three years so it was almost a brand new concept. It requires a formal adoption at town meeting so it’s something that the town has to consciously decide to do. You would go through like any other article or town meeting. You’d spend some time up front before the meeting kind of advertising it and getting people comfortable with the idea maybe have a public hearing or two and then the town meeting discussion would be its own event. Town managers are identified in the RSA’s and so it clearly outlines kind of the duties and the responsibilities – and there is a difference between the town manager and town administrator.
The town manager is basically the CEO of the town organization. It has the ultimate authority to hire and fire all employees, and can sign contracts on the behalf of the town and sign invoices and things like that.
The town administrator really manages the day-to-day operations but those higher level executive functions are still handled at the select board level. And so the Town administrator maybe is kind of the hybrid or halfway step where sometimes communities aren’t quite comfortable yet in allowing the town manager or city manager to kind of be the person that is in charge of the day to day stuff.
What kind of role does the select board end up having in a town that has a town manager?
Schneider: You know it depends on the community obviously, but from my perspective, the boards would be the connection between the community and the organization. If someone said, “Hey, Select Board member there’s a pothole in front of my house or the police did this or I didn’t like the way this is going, can you deal with that?” Then they would then bring it to the manager at a select board meeting and you talk about it. But really the select board are there to be the policymakers. The managers are the ones that implement the policy. So in a very of upper or higher level of thinking, the select board, town councils, and city councils, they’re the group that should be the ones that think about the bigger issues that may be facing the community, and debating that and, adding those types of discussions. Instead of “Well, I heard that this employee was doing this and I didn’t like that.” Those discussions happen, but really when you have a Town Manager that’s their responsibility. The select board holds the Town Manager accountable to take care of those day to day things but really they’re there to work on some of the bigger concerns that the community has.
For a town that is thinking about hiring a Town Manager position, what would you say to people that would be concerned that they’re losing that connection to the town government? If they are worried about consolidating that power into a single person who is not elected, they don’t feel the same connection, what would you say to them?
Schneider: The position isn’t something that is unique to New Hampshire; this is a profession that is international, and so that is certainly a common concern among municipalities everywhere. The select board is the group that manages the town manager so they’re the ones that are ultimately responsible. And I knew going into every meeting that it only took two votes for me to lose my position. So I’m accountable every time there is a Select Board meeting. Change can happen at any meeting, and so I think there is still accountability to the community. The select board still has a very big role in keeping the organization progressing, and they do that through managing and overseeing the town manager.
Town managers, by and large, are professionally trained, we go to school to get our Master’s Degree or we have taken some other type of training. And so, this is our profession, this what we’re here to do. We have ethics that I would say 99% of the managers carry forward. We’re there to make sure that the organization and the community run properly. So losing control from a citizen’s perspective, I can understand their concern, but all managers recognize that it only takes a simple majority on their board before they have to leave.
Did you do anything in town politics prior to municipal management?
Schneider: No. So, we are apolitical; managers don’t get involved in politics. If you are a member of ICMA which is the International City-County Managers Association, which is the national group that most managers belong to, It clearly states that you’re not supposed to hold public office at any level. So, even a benign trustee of trust funds or library trustee, you’re not supposed to hold those positions and you’re not supposed to actively support a political campaign. So you can not affiliate as a Republican or a Democrat because all of a sudden, you chose one or the other and you’ve upset a good part of your population so it’s best to be as neutral as possible. So outside of politics, what got me into it?
It’s interesting. There’s no history of it in my family in terms of municipal management. I grew up in Central New York and that part of the country is not a strong manager area. People that run the town and villages and cities are either mayors or a type of supervisors or village trustees. Growing up I didn’t know what a town manager was or what a city manager was. I ended up enrolling at the University of Vermont in their Masters of Public Administration Program and the Director at that time was a big proponent of local government management. That part of Vermont is a strong area for managers.
What interested you about that degree?
Schneider: I knew that I wanted some kind of public service. My bachelors was a history degree. I thought about law, but I didn’t really see myself as being a lawyer. So this was another way of kind of being involved with the law but not quite being a lawyer. So I was drawn to the local government program. The program at that point had a good connection with the local town managers. I got to know them and learn from them. It is a career that is challenging, but it’s also one where you don’t do the same thing every day, so that intrigued me. The more I got into it, the more I recognized that fit my own personal styles and goals. And, yeah, I was able to get a job and keep on going.
How did you end up in New Hampshire?
Schneider: My first job was at the Town of Richmond which is near Burlington and was there for a few years. Then I moved to the Poconos in Pennsylvania for a few years, western New York for a few years and then finally Einfield. It is common, I mean, this is a career that you need to be ready to move because your job can end abruptly. So it is common for managers to kind of move around. The average tenure of Managers for a 4-5 year range. Being in a place for 30 years happens but it’s not necessarily the norm.
When we lived up in Burlington my wife and I, we recognized that there is this great quality about Northern New England. I really appreciated the perspective and the lifestyle and the environment. We recognized that if an opportunity came up again we could move back up this way that we would. Einfield presented itself and I was lucky enough to get that position even luckier still to stay there for 11 ½ years.
You mentioned that for a lot of managers the timeline at a given job might only be 3 or 4 years. What are the most common reasons as to why that is that the case?
Schneider: So the advice I got from a manager I knew in Vermont was “You need to work for three different places before you’re ready to run your own ship and your own show.” When you’re early in your career you need to kind of say “Okay. Do you want to be in a smaller place or do I want to work in a bigger community?” Each of those environments entail different perspectives. When you work in a community that has a few hundred employees and maybe 20,000 people that’s a whole other different style of management than working in a community that has thirty employees and 5,000 people. It’s more retail. You kind of need to talk to people when you’re in a smaller community.
Whereas in a bigger place you’re running programs and while you see the public you don’t know them as nearly as well. So, that is one factor why folks move around. Another is when you take a position, there is a group of elected officials that want to hire you and that group doesn’t always stay together. Within eighteen months of my starting in Einfield, the three Select Board members that hired me had left. So I had three individuals that weren’t invested in me as a manager in terms of hiring me and getting to know me that way.
When there are turnovers among the elective body, that can lead to a change in the manager position. Most of the time it’s not because they’re unhappy with the individual. They just want somebody new in there because they want to be able to say “This is the person that I want.” That’s part of the job and most managers will understand that.
What are some of the biggest obstacles or hardest decisions that you had to make as you were going through those early stages of being a town manager and learning on the job?
Schneider: So, for me, it was do I want to manage a program or do I want to get to know the community that I want to be a part of? And the first two places I was at they were small, around 4-5,000 people and I enjoyed that. In New York, it was 20,000 people and so that was a different environment. For me, it was “What did I enjoy most? Where did I get the most satisfaction?” I knew it was a small, local government. I don’t know it was all that difficult to come to that decision? But I know that there are two paths that managers take: either very small, like six or seven thousand people or under or they go into bigger stuff. For example, the City of Phoenix has a city manager. The city of San Antonio has a city manager. Those are very large million-plus population cities that have managers. That’s a whole different level, you know? We do the same thing in that we all manage our communities but how we go about it is completely different.
Are there any particular differences amongst how the laws in the state of New Hampshire effect being a town manager in New Hampshire versus elsewhere? Is there anything is unique to the state of New Hampshire?
Schneider: Not so much in terms of being a town manager. The state government of New Hampshire has a bigger role in the day to day operations than the other three states that I’ve worked in. Take the New Hampshire Department of Revenue, they make sure you only do what the state says you can do. It doesn’t say that you can have a local sales tax, so then you can’t do that. If it says that you can’t register cats for some reason, then you can’t do that. The state still sets local tax rates. Perhaps seventy years ago when most communities didn’t have professionals helping them along, I could see where there’s a need for that level of micromanaging but does the state really need to be involved in that anymore? Probably not.
It’s that type of involvement that’s different in New Hampshire than it is in Vermont, Pennsylvania or New York. In Pennsylvania and New York, those are big states with populations in the multi-millions. It’s not that the state doesn’t pay attention to what happens on the local level, but they’re doing their own things so they don’t nearly play such an involved role as New Hampshire does.
What precipitated the job from Town Manager to Director the Regional Planning Commission?
Schneider: It wasn’t an easy decision, and it was very personal. It had nothing to do with the people I work with or with the community I served. I still live in Einfield and care very deeply about the success of the community and the organization. It was just time for that particular community and organization to have somebody else lead. Sometimes, you become deaf to somebody telling you the same thing over and over again. Sometimes, it’s just time for somebody else to lead. I was having a harder time finding the joy in doing what I did.
And what drew you to an RPC?
Schneider: Well I served as one of Einfield’s Commissioners to the RPC. There are twenty-seven communities that the RPC serves. Einfield is one of them and I was one of Einfield’s Commissioners for seven or eight years. I knew the organization and I was the Chair of the Planning Committee of this group. I was involved in some bigger projects during that time. The community looked at what are called projects developments with a regional impact. If they think a project will have an effect on the region, this body would take a look at it and share comments and perspectives. In 2016, I became the chair of this group.
I knew the people and knew kind of what they did. I was comfortable with it. I didn’t set out to become an Executive Director because we had gone through the whole hiring process. I had identified somebody and made an offer and an individual came and met the staff. They were ready to go but it just fell apart at the last minute. So that also happened at the same time that I had announced that I was leaving Einfield. It was a good transition. We didn’t want to leave the Upper Valley. Our children were still in school and so it was important to find something that would keep me local. Having been a manager, I am familiar with a lot of the issues that communities have. I think I bring a different perspective as a director, not being a planner by trade. I can share that perspective with the communities.
Can you describe what a regional planning commission does? What is its purpose and how do towns interact with them?
Schneider: There are a couple different roles that we carry out. We provide planning assistance to each of the communities for whatever they may need. That shows up in a couple of different ways. For example, if a town needs to revise its master plan, they would reach out to us and we would come up with the scope and say “Here’s what it’s going to cost and here’s how long it’s going to take.” Then we would help them revise their master plan. There are lots of those local land use issues that we’ll get involved in. We will also assist communities with Hazard Mitigation Plans, Emergency Operation Plans, etc.
We do help communities with some economic development work. We help put together things like build-out studies. Sometimes we will actually even be the planner for our communities. We call it circuit riding. An RPC staff member provides direct planning Services to four communities and will travel to the one or two days a week. For example, we’re in New London two days a week. That person acts as Town Planner for that particular community. They’ll fulfill all those duties and handle things as they come up. We’ll have a contract and the community knows kind of what it’s going to cost. We can budget that person’s time and pay accordingly. It’s a win-win, especially for communities that are small enough to not need or want a full-time planner but still need professional help.
Tonight, I will be working in the Town of Springfield attending and assisting at their Planning Board meeting.
Then there’s the regional work that we do. A lot of our work is tied to grants through either the state or the federal government. Today we have an EPA Brownfield Grant that’s asking for $300, 000 to perform a site assessment for properties within our region. We do a lot of household hazardous waste work. We’ll coordinate collection efforts in our region, we will also go out and do training. Last year we did some Green Cleaning in schools. We met with and had a conference with the school district custodial staff and said, “Here are some ways that you can reduce some of the more toxic chemicals that you are using in your school and replace them with greener alternatives and here are some of the benefits to that.” We also worked with art teachers and chemistry teachers to bring them up to speed so we do some of that work. We also do a lot of transportation planning. If you go over those “bump-bump” traffic counters in your community, chances are the RPC put it out there and is collecting traffic data for a study or other project.
We just did a traffic study in the town of Plainfield for a road that leads to their elementary school. They wanted to know the data so that they could help develop traffic calming measures for that particular road. Sometimes we collect data for communities. Sometimes the state will fund us to collect data on certain busier roads so that they can figure out if the road is changing in nature. It used to be just kind of a local road, but it looks like they are 10,000 cars a day on it and we may need to spend a little more time planning and figuring out how we’re going to improve or change that road.
We also do transit work, so that is assisting folks getting from point A to B. It’s working with the Senior Citizen Council and some of the local transit providers to make that the people that can’t get from their home to an appointment have the opportunity to do that.
In the end, all of our work becomes very local, but how its funded is either through communities or it’s funded through bigger grants from the state or federal government.
So from a town’s perspective, their Regional Planning Commission is kind of a one-stop shop for planning, economic development and all that kind of stuff. Do you end up having a lot of tailored solutions to each individual town?
Schneider: It can be, but we’re certainly not going to say there’s only one solution for your community. That doesn’t make any sense. But we can certainly offer examples of how a similar sized community organization has solved that issue. So we’re not going to say to the town of Leominster that has 1,200 people, here’s how you need to do your master plan because that’s how Claremont and Lebanon did it. That doesn’t make any sense.
What would you say to a town that has not had a lot of interaction with their RPC in recent history and isn’t aware of the kinds of services and things that they can provide. They might be looking to do some economic development or look at their master plan, etc. What do you recommend that they think about before approaching an RPC? What kinds of ducks would you want them to have in a row?
Schneider: I do not know that they need to be all that well defined other than “Hey we’ve got an issue and, we’re not sure yet how to handle it.” Certainly, a community can spend lots of time debating it saying “Here’s the direction we want to go, can you help us get there?” That’s fine or you can say: “Hey, listen, we got an issue we don’t know what we’re doing here.” We can take a look and come in and assist.
I don’t know that a community needs to spend a ton of time up front unless that’s something they need to do to get political support from the town’s people. Some communities are like that, some are very focused and organized and will come to us and say “Here’s the specific thing that we want you to do and here’s how we’d like you to do it.” They may know what they need but not have the staff to do it. Then there are others that say: “We just know that this road just keeps on washing out and we don’t know how we should fix it for the long term. Is there funding available someplace? Is there a process or a plan that you can help us kind of development that will fix this for us?” We can then walk them through the whole process and do as much or as little work as they would like or can afford.
What’s the history of RPC’s? When were they established?
Schneider: That’s a good question. I’m not totally sure of all the details. I know that they are nine of them in the state and they are a political sub-division. So we are a creature of the state of New Hampshire and technically a governmental body. I’m thinking that it was in the 60’s when it was established.
Participation is voluntary for communites. They’re all members, but not all 27 pay dues. If you don’t pay dues, it’s not that you won’t ever work with us, it’s just that there are some benefits to paying. I’m not sure that every RPC does this, but we charge non-members a higher rate than members. You certainly have access to us whether you’re a dues payer or not, but the cost of your community may be different. How that works varies across RPCs and regions.
Do you have any examples of some of the projects that you’ve taken on here that have been particularly effective or that you really think have had a positive impact on the community? What are you most proud of or excited about?
S. Schneider: Well, I’ve been the director since April. However, my involvement with the RPC has been longer than that. I would say that there are a couple things that have I think been important and impactful for the region. One of those is every five years the state requires RPC’s conduct what’s called a Regional Housing Needs Assessment and also, in true New Hampshire fashion, they don’t fund it in any way. So even though they require you to do it you’ve got to figure out a way to pay for it.
When we did the assesment in 2012, the data that it produced and the conclusions of the report were really kind of eye-opening in terms of what’s coming. We thought that in 2011- 2012 we were going to produce a report that basically said “Yeah, you know what, it seems like we are getting a little older but 10% growth every year in terms of population, boom-boom-boom. But boy it doesn’t feel like that’s happening anymore.” So the data confirmed that we are rapidly aging. I the Upper Valley Region by 2020 one-third of the population is said to be over 65 years old and 10 or 11% are supposed to be over 80 years old.
Those are big portions of the community. How you plan for that is different than how you would plan for if you’ve got some seniors, mostly younger families to compensate. On top of that, the communities weren’t growing anymore. Einfield was one of the first ones to show. We were projected to grow another 400-500 people and we didn’t. We lost people in the last census estimate update. It was like “Uh-oh that doesn’t make sense.” Then we saw other communities were either flat or losing as well. It wasn’t big chunks of the population, it used to be 4,800 now we’re 4,600. So, that’s not a huge difference but it’s definitely something. We have to figure out why we’re not growing anymore and why, in aggregate, we’re getting older? How does a community remain a community if it becomes top heavy in terms of age?
That’s a different dynamic that we just haven’t experienced in the recent past. I think that particular report was very useful not only because we identified the demographic trends but that there were some other housing issues, as well. It was clear that people weren’t able to live close to where they worked. So, Lebanon and Hanover are the job centers for a large section of both New Hampshire and Vermont and people aren’t all able to live in those towns.They have to live significant distances away. If you’re driving 45 minutes or an hour to get to work one way and the same to get home that’s 2-hours of your day that is lost. You can’t spend that time working, at home, with your family, doing things socially or in your community. So how does that impact places? And also environmentally you’re driving more and that has an impact on things. So it’s was just the kind of report that really got you thinking about things.
I would say that the Regional Plan that we did for next year was similar in that it really got folks thinking. Most New Hampshire communities recognize that the quality of life that they have in their area is special. It’s something to be valued and preserved. So, how do you do that? You don’t want to become a museum, You want it to be a place where people can still grow and develop in whatever way they think is fit. You also don’t want to lose whatever attracted people to begin with.
Solving an aging population crisis is not a simple matter. What is the community supposed to do? We’ve got this study, it bears out the thesis, what do we do about that?
Schneider: Yeah, it is a struggle. The thought that I’ve been tossing around in my head and I’ve shared with the staff here and other RPC Directors is that how do we make our communities age-friendly? Meaning, age-friendly isn’t necessarily one specific age, but from 2-102. How do you make these areas age-friendly for all ages? There’s a big concern with young folks. How do you get them to stay? What is it that would keep somebody that is in their 20’s wanting to live in a semi-rural environment? Obviously, they grew up here, but what’s going to keep them here? I don’t know that the RPC’s have the answers, but we’re certainly engaging our communities and talking about it and coming up with solutions.
I was at a meeting last night down in Newport. Sullivan County is working on an economic profile. So, they are gathering people together to talk about how we improve economic development conditions in Sullivan County. The main topics of discussion were: 1.) We need more employers to have more jobs that people are willing to take, 2.) How do we keep and attract younger people?
So, it’s an issue that is being discussed regionally, countywide and locally. It’s not something that you can come up with and say “Oh, here’s the solution.” because it’s going to be unique for every region.
I think the goal should be to make your communities adaptable enough or open enough that they can change a little bit at a time. To recognize that for us to be a community for the next 100 years, we’re going to have figure out a way to make our housing more affordable because people are staying in their homes longer. Actually, that was one of the other things that housing study identified. There are three stages of home ownership: there’s the first house, then there’s the family house, there’s the retirement house. People have to move through those stages for new people to come in and take those other spots.
The people in the family house now, they may be empty nesters; their kids are gone but they’re not moving. So, there is kind of “Well alright, I can’t take that next step in home ownership because those folks aren’t moving on because the seniors are moving on.” Of course, that’s happening because there’s more of those folks and they’re living longer. So it’s figuring out how to make home ownership a little more reasonable and accessible, that’s a big thing.
Another big issue is recognizing that the way that we communicate with one another is different and infrastructure is needed for that. In the age of the internet, do you consider telecommunications and broadband a right in the way that electricity is kind of a right or water and sewer? Is it a government function or is it something you have to still be at the whim of a big telecom? You know they’re never going to go into the backwoods of where people live, so that’s a struggle. It’s one that I certainly recognize and felt at the local level. In Einfield our community is by no means out in the sticks. We’re one town away from what we considered, for New Hampshire and especially the Upper Valley, the city. For folks who don’t have cable or are relying on satellite or even just dial-up for their connection to the internet, that’s a struggle. The state — I think they understand how broadband high-speed internet access is necessary for the long-term success of the state, but relying on the big telecoms to get meaningful broadband out to the whole population is hard. South of Concord is a whole other world from New Hampshire north of Concord.
To bring it back to the local — can you describe for folks, what is a master plan? How does it benefit a community?
Schneider: Well, the master plan has two functions from my perspective. One is the final document. The other is that the master plan process itself will take a community 18 months to go through it. So, that’s 18 months of discussing and meeting and working together. The process of developing the master plan is as important on a local level as the end product is. You get together and you show one another. It’s not something that you can do through email. it’s not something that you can go through the telephone. You actually have to get in a room and talk with one another and discuss the different parts of the master plan. In Vermont it’s called the town plan which, I think, is a better name; master plan seems a little foreboding.
Ultimately, it’s the vision of your community. That should take some time for you to develop. It should take a while for the community to muddle through what the vision for their community should be for the next 10 years. I think the master plan only needs to cover, specifically, a couple things that are required but it should cover everything. It should cover transportation, land-use, education, economic development, housing and so on. It should get into “Where do we think this community should go? Why should it go that way and how do we get it there?” For a master plan to be truly effective, I think it has to have a very strong vision. That requires a lot of back and forth amongst a community.
It should also have achievable outcomes in addition to the bigger vision. It should say “Within six months we should be here and in eighteen months this thing needs to happen.” It should also have dollar figures attached to it, as best as you can, and who’s responsible for making that occur.
So, my vision of a master plan requires a ton of buy-in from both the select-board and broader town government but also Town Meeting. As an aside, in New Hampshire and Northern New England, town meeting is the best thing that local governments has to offer. I love town meeting. Preparing for it wasn’t always the most fun but being there and the experience was great. If I’m a resident, I know that I can go to this meeting and I can bring up a point and have a meaningful conversation with my neighbors and elected officials and come up with a decision and a path for our community.
So, town meeting is a large part of the community buying-in to the master plan concept. Especially if there are going to be funds identified because town meeting ultimately has the say on money being allocated. Down the road, if you look at the master plan and say, “Yes, this is the year we’re supposed to do *this* according to the master plan.” the residents have already been a part of the process and aware of it and it becomes that much easier for things to move forward. Town meeting hates surprises. Town meeting also doesn’t like when one board says one thing and the other board says the other.
So the master plan, to me, it’s a process but it’s also the document itself. You should be able to open it up and say, “Alright, for transportation, what are going to do the next 6 months? Okay, it says we are supposed to put up new street lights because the ones we have are too small or they’re not attractive or we want to do something different.” I was working in a community in Western New York. The town was one of the homes for Fisher-Price and they, of course, made toys. During the process, they decided to have some fun and paint their fire hydrants to look like different Fisher Price characters. So at that point in time Toy Story was huge. So you saw a ‘Woody’ fire hydrant and a ‘Buzz Lightyear’ fire hydrant and the Pig. So that’s something you might consider to include in a master plan, it doesn’t always have to be so serious. It shouldn’t be. You should be able to have a sense of humor and have a conversation with your community. Obviously, the things that we do are serious, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t also take a different perspective and the master plan should reflect that.
How do you get the process started of that 18-month visioneering and getting buy-in?
Schneider: The Planning Board is the group that’s ultimately in charge of the master plan. A town can do it very traditionally and just stay within the Planning Board and update it how they see fit. Or, they can seek outside help. The RPC’s are always available to assist the community with their master plan work. We’ve got two or three that are going through it right now and another two or three that is just kind of figuring out how they want to move forward.
What I’ve recommended to those towns that are just getting started is you need to have a conversation with the Select Board and the Planning Board, at a minimum. You can bring in as many boards and community organizations as you can or want. Start the conversation there. Say “It’s time for us to begin our Master Plan how do we want to do that?” You can stay in-house if we think that we have the people. Sometimes you get lucky and you’ve got this guy who lives in town who used to be an RPC Director for 100 years. He knows master plans and wants to help. They can run with it and go. You may find you want to reach out and seek professional assistance to guide us through this process. But, I think initially it has to start having some type of conversation either with the Select Board or Planning Board and saying, “It’s time for us to dig in here. Let’s get together and figure out how we want to move forward.”