Courtesy Marshall Collins
The author at Town Hall in Salem, Conn. (Courtesy Marshall Collins)

With municipal elections less than one month away, the timing for a discussion on how citizens can make a difference in their communities couldn’t come at a better time than that chosen by the Governor M. Jodi Rell Center for Public Service and the University of Hartford.

Day after day of political gridlock and the increasingly personal nature of politics in both Washington and Hartford have made many people hesitant to participate in government. It is an understatement to say that this is discouraging at best.

Nevertheless, at 6 p.m., on Thursday, Oct. 12, the Rell Center will conduct a free program, at the University of Hartford, in which municipal leaders will discuss how individuals can and should get involved in local government.

Local government always needs individuals to volunteer and to run for election. Local office holders actually implement most of the policies adopted at the state and federal levels. Whether appointed or elected, it is our neighbors who directly affect education, recreation, sanitation, land use, taxation, libraries, housing, public safety and more. People from our state capitol or from Washington don’t come out to fix the pothole at the end of your driveway, to pick up your trash, to provide police and fire protection, or to set local tax levels.

Nowhere is the ability to have direct input into government greater than in your own community. Most local boards and commissions are appointed rather than elected. And even those that are elected are usually desperate for people willing to serve. An individual doesn’t have to have an advanced degree to make an important contribution locally. Government by the people and for the people is what local government is all about.

On Election Day, this November 7th, people can begin their involvement by voting. After that they can volunteer to serve on the non-elected municipal boards and commissions and to begin thinking about running for office.

Unfortunately, too many people either think that they can’t make a difference, or that politics and government are dirty words. To the contrary, politics is the people’s business. Good government doesn’t just happen; it takes good people to step forward and into the ring. It is too important to leave to others. Yes participation takes time, but not as much as you think.

Over approximately 40 years, at different times I have had the privilege of serving on my community’s Economic Development Commission (appointed), and the Board of Education and Board of Finance (both elected). Yes they took time, but never too much. The people, experiences and issues that were involved were rarely boring and ultimately rewarding.

Hopefully, anyone who cares about the quality of life in his or her community, and would like to make a difference, will attend the Rell Center program.

The program has an excellent panel and moderator:

• Norwich Mayor Deb Hinchey;
• Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman;
• Former Wethersfield Planning and Zoning Chairperson Rich Roberts;
• Hampton Board of Education member (and Chairperson of the CT Association of Boards of Education) Anne Gruenberg, and;
• West Hartford Town Manager Matt Hart will moderate.

Finally, congratulations are in order for the Rell Center and the University of Hartford for making this program open to the public at no charge.

Marshall R. Collins is a member of the Salem Board of Finance and has previously serviced as the Chairman of the Economic Development Commission and he also was a member of the Board of Education. He can be reached by .

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of