by Sue Flicop
This annual meeting marks a special moment for me as part of the League of Women Voters of Newton. This has been my eighth year as either President, Co-President or a Steering Committee member of the League, and next year I return to a regular Board member. I’ve loved many of the moments representing the League all these years, but have felt for quite a while that it is better for the organization to have new leadership with new ideas and new ways of doing things. Those of you who have been frustrated with me at any point—it’s time to rejoice because we will have a new leader next year!
Eight years is a long time, and one naturally starts thinking about what was different 8 years ago, what feels exactly the same, and what’s been accomplished in between.
So for what’s different: we no longer have a strong newspaper in Newton, making it much, much harder to get our information and message out to the community. I remember one of my first Annual Meetings, Jane Leighton gave direction to the Board about how important it was to be in the TAB as much as possible. Things are substantially different now. The slow demise of the TAB has led to a fracturing of ways to get messages out, requiring a multi-pronged approach that sometimes misses many of our older citizens.
With the fallout of the 2016 national election, we have a more engaged citizenry—a good thing, but one that has led to a number of groups with overlapping goals and membership. Where the League is a more general volunteer group, working on a wide variety of issues, many engaged people choose to focus on one area and look for groups that work exclusively on certain topics. While this is a net positive for our community, it makes it harder for the League, as a group with perhaps more moderate sensibilities and a long-established—and long—process, to appeal to many of the highly engaged and focused volunteers.
A very welcome change for the League during my time as a leader is the change of some of our most dedicated and hard-working members to be some of our most dedicated and hard-working elected officials. This, of course, has nothing to do with me (so I’m not taking any credit), but came as a result of the members’ many, many years of engagement with the community and the knowledge and skills that come from being a part of an organization dedicated to good governance and educated decision-making. We continue to be a training ground for women who are interested in running for office and who are willing to make tough decisions important to our community.
As a result, the League itself has changed. Reliant as we are on the interest and engagement of our members, we have a number of committees that are no longer active, as we search for new leadership. We also have some new and refreshed committees working very hard to achieve their goals. So while our positions are essentially the same, the organization has shifted focus to match different interests.
What’s stayed the same in all this time? We continue to be a respected voice on issues of local municipal government and a sought-out group for support on a variety of initiatives. We continue our work to both increase the number of voters and to help them become more informed and make the decision that best reflects their perspectives. We keep true to our core values.
What also seems to have stayed the same, but is disheartening, is that there are two different visions for Newton, with Newton residents dividing up into two camps for seemingly everything. It’s become quite obvious and predictable, and I’m not sure how it can be fixed.
And what has been accomplished in eight years? To be really quite honest, I’ve struggled with this question. I know what we didn’t accomplish, and that was charter reform. But we tried—we collected signatures, worked to educate the public, followed the whole process, but came up just a little short. And the repercussions are all around us. Battle lines were drawn over the charter and they still remain. What I think we had all hoped would be a general agreement on how our city government should best be structured seem to have devolved into the divisions we see at every land use committee meeting. As you can imagine, this is my deepest disappointment.
But…it couldn’t all have been bad, right? Of course not. We’ve been weathering the changes both in our membership, and in the world at large. In the past 8 years we have set some new procedures in place for communicating with members by using email regularly and dropping the use of paper as much as possible. We’re trying different media to communicate our ideas and inform the public. We’ve tried to be faster in response to events in the community—we haven’t got that down, yet, and it’s still a work in progress. We’re open to partnering with groups more closely and advertising events that dovetail with League positions, especially for those groups interested in environmental issues. Also a work in progress is how to plan topic meetings that are well-attended. Our topic meetings are always interesting—but given the busy lives of our members, we are trying to find a regular time that appeals to the most people. We’ve also been addressing more national-level issues, like immigration and voting rights. And I know that there will be more changes to come with a new leader in place.
I’ve been proud to represent the League for so many years—it’s been a great honor that I’ve enjoyed and learned from. I’ve gained some patience, a dedication to process, a thicker skin, and a deep appreciation for all of you who have been so kind and helpful to me over the years as I’ve made mistakes. But it’s also time for a change, and I’m happy that our new president is someone who has had many years of experience as a proven leader in our community. Thank you.