Several weeks ago, Charles Buki, an economic development consultant from Alexandria, Virginia, created a splash in Maine for an open letter he sent to the citizens of the town of Millinocket.

He had read a news article about the problems facing the town, and he and his colleagues decided to offer their help. They gathered and analyzed data, visited the town and its surroundings, interviewed and surveyed hundreds of citizens, elected officials and business owners. Then they offered, at no charge, their best thinking about the actions the town and its people needed to take to create a more prosperous future.

The letter recommended a series of technical and strategic changes in the areas of education, infrastructure investment, taxation, business development and more. But the most important element in the letter was its conviction that the most serious changes the town needed to undertake were not technical but attitudinal. The town, these observers said, needed to redefine its “sense of self.” The people of Millinocket needed to rethink their “relationship to the land and to outsiders.”

These are pretty strong words for an outsider to say to Mainers. But as individually challenging and politically incorrect as they may have been, they weren’t the most critical or the most important part of the message. The Virginia consultants also said that a better future “will require fundamental change … in your work as a community, deciding what to change and why.”

Attitude is one thing, but behavior is another all together. I can take offense and make snide remarks about outsiders when they leave. But I’ve still got to live with all of you tomorrow. That’s the central challenge facing us all in Maine – how we work (or don’t) as a community, and how we decide.

And that challenge faces not just the citizens in Millinocket or Bucksport. It faces all of us everywhere in Maine. Are we, in fact, a community with collective work to do? Or are we bands of individuals ready to fight to the end any change we feel threatens us individually?

And nowhere does this challenge to us as a community more obviously confront us than in Gov. Paul LePage’s proposals for tax reform. Whatever you make think of the governor, he has presented a bold and strong position. And he is taking it on the road; he is treating us as members of a community.

We should take up the challenge, not by vowing from the start, “Over my dead body!” Instead, we should open our minds and show the courage to consider different positions, to think carefully, to offer measured, respectful responses and give our fellow community members the opportunity to do the same.

Our governor has emerged as a leader. Let’s engage him in the community building process.

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions Inc. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]