Selectperson Institute: A Popular Teaching Tool for Elected Town Officials

By Lynn Sperl

Jack Calhoun never seems to have any trouble attracting applicants for the New Hampshire Selectperson Institute that’s held annually at the New Hampshire Local Government Center (LGC). A full roster of participants has already registered for its Class of 2010. “I had people calling me in January this year wanting to sign up even though they hadn’t even been elected yet,” says Calhoun, who directs the Institute on behalf of its sponsoring partners, Antioch University New England Institute and LGC.

What It Offers

The New Hampshire Selectperson Institute is an intensive, hands-on training program designed exclusively for experienced and newly elected members of the board of selectmen. All current selectmen in New Hampshire can apply for the program, which consists of four Saturday sessions that start in early May and end in October.

The Institute provides participants with a confidential environment in which to hone leadership skills, share experiences and build relationships with fellow selectmen. With an emphasis on effectively engaging the public in local governance, each full-day session also offers opportunities for attendees to brainstorm solutions to concerns that are shared by participants’ communities.

“We will expose them to issues as well as resources in terms of people with expertise and knowledge who they can turn to when questions come up,” explains Calhoun. “We also provide good reference materials for participants to use as part of their ongoing efforts to inform themselves and become better selectpersons.”

Real-Life Scenarios

In addition, Institute sessions feature scenarios or mini-case studies of real-life situations selectpersons may encounter on the job. “These may be composites of things that have occurred in communities throughout New Hampshire which we’ve developed as teaching tools for participants to discuss in small groups, so they can learn from each other’s experiences,” notes Calhoun.

Participants are also given a chance to interact with a working member of New Hampshire’s media to ask questions of a news corps representative in a non-threatening environment. “We also spend time talking about how to engage citizens in the deliberative process of local government,” Calhoun points out.

LGC Overview

Other topics covered as part of the Institute’s curriculum include overviews of LGC’s comprehensive legal services plus offerings available to towns through LGC’s Workers’ Compensation Program, Property-Liability Trust and HealthTrust. “Many past Selectperson Institute participants who later access LGC’s risk services go on to experience a measurable decline in claims against their towns since our trainings and programs help them operate more effectively and efficiently,” reports LGC’s Risk and Health Manager Scott Weden.

Positive Feedback

More than 300 elected officials from nearly 100 towns located throughout the state have graduated from the New Hampshire Selectperson Institute since it was co-launched by the LGC and Antioch a dozen years ago. “I got a lot of great information that I have been able to cite in meetings,” said Norman Boudreau, a Town of Tilton selectman, upon graduating from the Institute last fall—a comment echoed by many other past participants.

But perhaps the single most consistent feedback received from Institute attendees, according to Calhoun, is that they value being able to candidly speak with other selectpersons from around the state. “They recognize they’re not alone and that there are people they can call on when problems arise,” says Calhoun.

For Calhoun personally, some of the most satisfying feedback from participants comes months later in the form of personal notes attesting to the usefulness of what they learned. “It’s not always immediate,” Calhoun says of the value gained from Institute attendance. “But when I see former participants at the LGC Annual Conference each November talking with one another, I know their experience is continuing to build a valuable esprit de corps.”

Lynn Sperl is a communications specialist with LGC’s Communications Department. For more information about the New Hampshire Selectperson Institute and 2011 registration, contact Jack Calhoun by e-mail or call 603.283.2108.

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