After a handful of Seekonk citizens attended the Community Preservation Coalition’s Southeastern MA conference in November 2007, they were inspired to shape an organized effort to adopt CPA in their community.
The group called themselves “CPA Seekonk” and solicited interest from other volunteers to join the effort. The Seekonk Land Trust was instrumental in supporting the group’s efforts from the beginning and was particularly helpful with outreach efforts and funding.
The preservation of open land and development of a town park were the leading issues that initially generated local interest in CPA. Although many citizens were passionate about the issues, the group was working under tight time pressures—they only had about three months to collect almost 500 signatures in order to get CPA on the ballot for the April 7th, 2008 municipal election. Setting up stations at the local library, they focused their efforts on getting the requisite signatures and successfully submitted over 500 signatures to the town clerk in mid-February—about a week early. Soon they learned that the Town Clerk had certified the results, and CPA was on the ballot!
With only about six weeks to educate local town boards, commissions, and officials as well as voters, the small group had to scramble. They held two public meetings, made a presentation to the Board of Selectmen, wrote several letters to local newspapers, displayed two newspaper ads, mailed about 1,200 brochures to registered spring voters, and made some telephone calls.
They received official support from various entities including Seekonk Human Services, The Land Conservation Trust, the Seekonk Historical Commission, as well as Representative Steve D’Amico, the Runnins River Watershed Steering Committee, The Trustees of Reservations, and MassAudubon.
Why it Failed
The timing proved difficult for Seekonk’s 2008 CPA campaign for two primary reasons. As Susan Waddington, a member of CPA Seekonk, reflects, “There was not enough time between turning in the signatures and the election to adequately educate town officials and the public about CPA—we were not experienced enough to do both at the same time”. Just before the election, it was clear that some influential citizens did not have a full understanding of CPA. In addition to the limited campaign time, a contentious race for Board of Selectmen vied with CPA for the attention of the voters.
Try, Try Again
Although CPA failed to pass in April 2008, voters in Seekonk ultimately endorsed CPA at the municipal election held on April 6, 2009. By building on the education and outreach effort that was started for the prior 2008 campaign, CPA supporters were able to reach out more broadly and in some ways with more clarity and focus.
The committee also held an open house at the town library where various stations were set up to provide information about CPA. The library is a major gathering place in Seekonk and meetings there are announced on the library’s web site. Previously the committee had held a traditional public meeting at the middle school, which was not as well attended as was hoped.
Lessons Learned and Advice for Future Campaigns
In Susan Waddington’s words, “If you can get community opinion makers on your side, that’s a great thing. You also need hardworking and committed volunteers”. Timing is important— having enough time to campaign and educate. As campaign leaders explain, opponents often insist that it is “not the right time” for CPA, but by explaining that adoption of CPA allows communities to access the state trust funds, community members can be convinced that they can complete much-needed projects that could never be funded through the regular and shrinking municipal budgets.