From the Beacon, October 2023

It is with great pleasure that I submit to all of you my first column as the new Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. By the time you read this, I will have been on the job for about one month. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many of you through your association meetings and conferences. For those of you that I haven’t seen yet, I look forward to meeting you over the course of the fall at your upcoming meetings.

I’d like to take a moment to tell you why I am so excited about local government and specifically, why I am excited about serving in this role.

As you all know from your work, the challenges that local governments are facing are tangible, practical and usually have a fairly obvious ticking clock for finding a solution. When a road needs to be repaved, you program it in your roadway management plan. When someone calls 911, you roll the appropriate emergency vehicle response. And when a budget needs to be balanced, you make the hard decisions that are necessary to keep essential services running while maintaining fiscal stewardship.

I’m not saying that there isn’t political turmoil at the local level — there certainly is — but at the end of the day, you are accountable for providing critical municipal services. To borrow a phrase from the late Arlington Select Board Member Charlie Lyons, who passed last week (please see our People column): “There are no red potholes or blue water lines.” At the local level, you set politics aside and simply get things done for your residents, day in and day out, year over year.

Over the past several years, you have had to do much more than what might seem like the basics. You’ve had to deal with a global pandemic. You’ve had to deal with a long-overdue racial reckoning. You’ve had to have difficult conversations about policing. You’ve had to deal with some very real impacts from climate change. You’ve had to grapple with ever-worsening transportation challenges. And you’ve had to deal with the skyrocketing cost of housing, which is prompting major demographic shifts in your communities and creating unprecedented challenges in recruiting and retaining a municipal workforce.

But, yet again, you are rising to meet these challenges. You don’t have every solution that is necessary to solve these thorny problems, but you are working to find them.

And this work is evidenced by cities and towns across the Commonwealth serving as Green Communities, by your work in preparing Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness plans, by your work and investment in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and by your success in applying for, receiving and implementing a range of state and federal grants over the past several years.

You’re not shying away from these challenges — you’re taking them head-on, and you’re doing this because you must. You can’t (and don’t) put your head in the sand and pretend these problems will solve themselves. They won’t. You get up every day, and you do what you can to find solutions to these challenges so that your residents can live in safe, healthy and equitable communities.

Ultimately, the work on the basics and the work on the bigger challenges combine to create the secret sauce that makes me so bullish about the capability of local government to bridge the gaps in our polarized world. And that secret sauce is trust.

The work that you do in local government builds trust in government, it builds trust in community, and it builds trust in our society’s collective ability to get things done. It’s that trust that can be used to shore up the cracks in the foundation of this country and, hopefully, help us find a way forward as we march deeper into the 21st century.

I did spend time in your shoes, and developed an enormous amount of respect and administration for your dedication, integrity, spirit and creative thinking. I share your deeply held commitment to public service, to improving the lives of residents in this great state, and you can be sure that the MMA will continue to march alongside you and support you in every way we can.

Written by Adam Chapdelaine, MMA Executive Director & CEO