Selectmen discuss building relationships with legislators

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State Rep. Stephen Kulik speaks before the Massachusetts Selectmen's Association at 2017 MMA Annual MeetingStrong personal, trusting relationships between local officials and legislators, as well as their staff, are mutually beneficial.
Rep. Stephen Kulik and MMA Legislative Director John Robertson brought this message to selectmen from across the state during the Annual Business Meeting of the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association on Jan. 21.
“The commonality of interest that we share is an important part of our jobs,” Rep. Kulik said. “And doing it together makes our jobs go a little more smoothly.”
“We are all elected officials and share a particular bond and we represent the same constituents,” he added. “And I think it’s always important for us to keep that in mind.”
At the start of the meeting, Kulik noted that a large proportion of the 200 members of the state Legislature have served on elected local boards, including 38 who served as selectmen and 34 as councillors.
“Municipal government is a great training ground – it is the best training ground for effective service in the Legislature,” Kulik said.
When he asked how many selectmen in the room knew their legislators on a first-name basis, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s about building relationships, long-term relationships, and I think this is one of the things that selectmen are very well suited to do,” Robertson added.
Legislators play an important role in helping local elected officials do their jobs, Kulik said, as they are able to advocate on their behalf with state agencies or at the federal level.
“We can get information for you,” he said. “All of our offices are keen on being resources for you.”
Kulik made a few suggestions for how to keep communications open and build relationships with legislators beyond phone calls, including making use of office hours in district locations, attending county-wide meetings that legislators frequent, and inviting legislators to attend select board meetings and community events.
Referencing the municipal health insurance reform law as one of the most contentious and consequential he had worked on, Kulik said it was invaluable to hear from his constituents about the issue.
“It is very important that you do your homework, that you know your facts” when working on an issue for your community, Robertson said. “Be prepared when talking to your legislators.”
After hearing from Kulik and Robertson, the selectmen gathered in smaller focus groups to discuss two major issues across the state (zoning and school funding), their communities’ concerns, and how they could collaborate with their legislators on those issues.