Most respondents said they’re only moderately or slightly knowledgeable about town business in a recent survey that Falmouth sent out to residents. Courtesy / Town of Falmouth

FALMOUTH — A recent survey shows the vast majority of respondents feel they are only moderately or slightly knowledgeable about town business and 31% are either somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the town’s methods of sharing information, while another 38% are only somewhat satisfied.

The survey results were first posted to  www.falmouthme.org last week and will be used to inform town policy going forward. The survey, sent out this summer, was designed to give town leaders input on how best to improve communications with residents, particularly on topics of keen interest such as development and zoning.

Survey respondents said it’s important for the town to communicate “early and often” and to “provide more information in a more timely manner.” Several residents also said town leaders can’t just solicit input, but they must listen as well.

And others encouraged the town not to “allow small groups with special interests who attend a meeting be the only factor in decision making.”

Several respondents also called on the town to hold more neighborhood meetings, public forums or listening sessions where councilors are “truly unbiased and (don’t) have their minds made up before asking for input.”

Respondents indicated they would prefer to receive information from the town and hear about issues of town-wide or neighborhood concern through an emailed or postal newsletter.

Along with the survey, the town has also hired a part-time education and outreach coordinator. Her role, according to Town Manager Nathan Poore, is to “help the entire organization improve upon its communication systems.”

Erin Bishop Cadigan is working 15 hours a week and part of her job is to research best practices in other communities, both in Maine and elsewhere, Poore said.

Cadigan spent three years working as Falmouth’s Tercentennial coordinator. Poore said her knowledge of the town, plus her overall work experience will be invaluable as town leaders work to “review, analyze and improve our communication and outreach with the public.”

Improving communications with residents was a priority for all three people elected to the Town Council in June and had been a topic of much discussion prior to the annual municipal election. In particular, those who opposed a series of controversial 2016 rezoning measures said there was too little communication and opportunity for input before the zoning decision was made.

In addition, several controversial development proposals, including at the Falmouth Shopping Center and a 151-unit contract zone in West Falmouth, also had residents questioning why they weren’t better informed before the projects reached the Town Council level.

Poore said it’s uncertain whether the town will make Cadigan’s position permanent, adding, “we’ll know more about our long term needs once the council has concluded its effort to determine what is best for communication and outreach to the community.”

Specifically, he said Cadigan will be involved in all aspects of resident communications, including newsletters, social media, and other methods. “Specific projects will be added based on the council’s work plan and goals,” Poore said.

He said the survey was sent out in July and so far 345 residents have responded. The town has no stated deadline by which residents must fill out the questionnaire.

Of the methods the town uses to send out information, most respondents said email alerts are the best, with social media and regular postal mailings almost tied. And most respondents seemed to be united in their dislike of the town’s official website, which many said is difficult to navigate.

The council has yet to discuss the survey results and no specific recommendations have yet come forward from town staff, but Poore said town leaders would “continue to assess our communications systems … with an eye to improving our outreach and expanding the ways in which we give and receive information.”

 

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