“Live Free or Die” – the official motto of the state of New Hampshire where I will spend a total of four weeks with Robert from Cambodia and Derrick from Singapore, with our host community here in the lovely town of Hooksett. The town of Hooksett is home to a population of roughly 15,000 people and is located right next to the city of Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is stunningly beautiful! We are truly fortunate to be here during fall, with peak foliage just a week away. The colours, food, weather and people all make this experience an unforgettable one.
What a start to the first week in my host community it has been. We spent a lot of time this week conversing with the Town Administration, led by Dr Dean Shankle (Town Administrator) who gave us a crash course on the role and responsibilities of the local government. To get a better feel of the actual governance process, we observed multiple town and municipal meetings. Some of the meetings we attended were the town planning board meeting, town budget committee meeting, town economic development committee meeting and the municipal planning commission meeting.
From early observation, the inclusive process employed by the local government does contrast with the administrative process back home in Malaysia. Here in the town of Hooksett, residents are provided with a platform to participate, question and provide suggestions in areas that may directly or indirectly affect them. This allows for a greater level of transparency and accountability amongst administrators and the people. From the meetings we attended however, I noticed that the demographics of those that attend these meetings lean towards the more senior members of the community. Am personally hoping to see more young adults involved in the upcoming Town Council in November. It has also been interesting to observe the discourse around current issues like the Opioid crisis here in New Hampshire, the dispute over the reconstruction of the Lilac bridge and some local planning/zoning issues.
There are of course pros and cons to every system, and it is important to recognise what they are to ensure continuous improvement to the system. For example, back home, most key decisions are mainly made at the federal and state level. Local governments generally play the role of implementers, and are staffed by a team of civil servants who are specialists in their areas of responsibility. The benefit to that is that key decisions are able to be made quickly and decisively. However, much still needs to be done to engage the public in this process.