standing Stonington Town Hall

STONINGTON — Members of the town's Board of Selectmen are moving forward with efforts to improve communication between town officials and the general public, which officials said is necessary to enhance transparency to better serve the community.

First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough and selectwomen Deb Downie and June Strunk established an Ad Hoc Communication Committee late last month and are currently seeking residents to serve on the board, which will be tasked with determining the best methods for communicating with the public.

"The goal is for us as a board to be able to connect with residents, to hear their stories and to improve the government process," Chesebrough said.

The committee will be asked to make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen, including whether it would be beneficial to establish a town newsletter, host a podcast, set policy and use different forms of social media — or if they should be considering other methods that haven't been discussed yet.

Strunk said last week that the effort is to provide numerous outlets for people to voice their concerns without restricting conversations to the podium or before a crowd at a meeting. She said it would also allow people to communicate before topics become overly emotional and reduce tension between groups with opposing opinions.

"This is something that will allow us to talk more directly with our residents and business owners," Strunk said. "Communication is an important tool that will allow us to prioritize projects and focus on what matters most to the public."

In the meantime, Chesebrough will begin hosting a monthly public discussion series called "Discussions with Danielle," in which she said she hopes to be able to engage with residents in an informal setting.

The first program will be held Thursday from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Mia’s Prime Time Café in Pawcatuck. A second discussion will be held on March 5 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the M Bar in Mystic. 

The program will then expand to eventually include a variety of businesses across the community at various times to try and provide options for residents to attend, no matter what their schedule may be. 

Chesebrough credited fellow board members with helping develop the idea, saying it was conceived during a discussion on how the town could open new lines of communication while awaiting the committee's recommendations.

"This gives us a chance to not wait, but rather to have these open dialogues now," Chesebrough said.

Chesebrough said due to Open Meetings Act restrictions, Strunk and Downie will not be able to be part of the first couple events. If the discussions are successful, however, Chesebrough and Strunk said all three selectwomen would be open to adjusting in order to allow the informal discussions that would make all members of the board available. 

"We need to make sure that we are able to host them without having to formally consider it a meeting," Strunk said. "I think the goal remains to be transparent, and to provide an atmosphere where residents can talk with us in a manner that is comfortable for them."

For further information on the Discussions with Danielle series or to apply for a seat on the committee, visit the town’s website at stonington-ct.gov.

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