What’s In a Committee?

It’s town meeting time, and with tight budgets around Conway that has meant fights all over the place. The budget committee has had several heated meetings, and the selectmen have gone the same way. The school board is struggling to keep their budget numbers up while people on all sides are looking for cuts, and the police are asking for more money to fund more officers at a time when other departments are cutting.

We were talking today about the role of the budget committee, which recommends final figures that then go to the voters and (if not revised) onto the ballot. The budget committee is supposed to be elected, but of the 11 person board (don’t quote me on that number, I’m just spouting here) only one was voted in. The rest were appointed, some by the budget committee itself.

Which raises an interesting question: what role does a self-appointed committee have in a democracy? It’s only self-appointed because there isn’t the interest among residents to fill the seats through elections, true, but the committee makes serious recommendations for the rest of the town and they are not appointed by the people.

Like with the school. The budget committee cut 11 percent from the school’s $33 million operating budget. The voters have the option to add back most but not all of that. $700,000 they just can’t get back. That means an 11 member board decided to cut the school budget, and even if the entire town showed up to protest the closest they could get is $700,000 less. Direct democracy could be restrained by a self-appointed group.

And who would people have to blame? Themselves. Anyone who wants to run can, but in the past they haven’t. This year, however, there is a lot of interest in civic duty. Maybe it comes with challenging times. It certainly has been interesting to report on, and it is only going to get more exciting.

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