Democracy is Easy to Lose; It Takes Effort to Save


To the Editor,

On November 8, around 70 percent of Rockport’s eligible voters cast ballots in national and state elections, demonstrating their belief in elections and our system of government.  However, understanding how local government should and does work is not the same as casting an occasional ballot.  In Rockport, accountability of town government to the governed declined and reached a point where remediation is needed.  Rockport’s town government consists of two branches; an Executive Branch and a Legislative Branch.  The Executive Branch is an elected Select Board of five members and various appointed town committees.  The Legislative Branch is all resident voters who express the will of the people in annual and special Town meetings.  As in all democracies, good government depends on both branches fulfilling their responsibilities.

Recently, a group of residents, some of whom are or were volunteers on Rockport Town Committees, boards, and Commissions, have witnessed a growing decrease in respect for the laws, transparency and follow-through, and timeliness of action by the Select Board on matters approved by Town Meeting or recommended by committees and boards.

A group, the Rockport Civic League (RCL), now with over 34 members, was formed to provide a positive approach to improve the local Rockport Government.  The method uses broad-based Civic Education for everyone on how local town government works and what is needed to improve how it serves all the citizens and voters of the town.

Education about the role and responsibilities of the Select Board, Town Meetings, and voters in making town government more responsive, transparent, accountable, and respectful is needed. The RCL believes those qualities are the foundation of democracy, and improvements will motivate positive change in all parts of town government.

A list of currently proposed educational topics includes communication between residents and the Select Board; budget transparency; equal and consistent implementation of bylaws and adopted policies; the creation of Town Meeting Warrants; what constitutes a quorum in a Town Meeting; what is the meaning of Home Rule legislation: how voters should get to speak at town board meetings; how the Town spends federal and state grant money; how members of boards are appointed and serve; and possibilities for improved participation in Annual and Special Town meetings.

The Rockport Civic League is an approach to provide much-needed improved democracy in Rockport town government.  Soon, the League will invite town residents, Select Board members, the Town Administrator, and chairpersons of Town Committees for dialogue at an open town forum as a way to begin the process of community civic education and engagement.

Please get in touch with the RCL at our website:

Bill Tobin


elections, democracy, the future, select board