May 7, 2021

New Windham town councilor shares lessons learned in his first six months

By Lorraine Glowczak

After winning election to the Windham Town
Council las fall, Mark Morrison set out on a
self-imposed education course on how local
government operates successfully on a daily
basis in order to come up to speed on 

A year ago, it never occurred to Mark Morrison to run for office. A busy Financial Advisor, Morrison was – and is – highly involved in the community and local organizations to include the Sebago Lakes Region Rotary (as President on June 1), the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce as well as BNI-Windham/Referral Network. He is also a board member of the Windham Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). But despite his credentials and experience, the consideration to become an elected official of the Town of Windham was not on his radar.

Until, that is, he was asked to run for the Windham Town Council’s At-Large seat position.

“The thought of running for an elected office was far from my mind until Jarrod Maxfield, [Town Council member representing the North District], approached me and asked me to consider running for the open seat,” Morrison said. “Before I was able to give him an answer, I told him I would like to think about it and discuss it with my wife.”

Although Morrison’s and Maxfield’s paths had crossed at town meetings and community events, Morrison was surprised and honored by Maxfield’s invitation to run.

“I approached Mark because I have found him to be a positive person, an involved community member and intellectually engaged to ask lessons and learn, not just have a pre-formed opinion,” Maxfield said. “I knew he would add to the cohesive and productive council we have had the last few years.”

After much consideration, Morrison and his wife, Candace (who immediately supported the idea), decided to go for it.

“My wife and I never thought I would win – we just both thought it would be interesting to learn the details of campaigning,” he said. “Once the election was over, I would go back to my normal life.”

But as we know, that is not what happened, and life became an adventure in a fast-paced, self-imposed education course in how a local government, specifically Windham, functions successfully on a daily basis.

Morrison, a graduate of the University of Southern Maine with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, has extensive professional experience and training in the private sector, so he is aware that the business of running a public sector is slightly different and wanted to be as educated as possible.

“Once I was elected, I realized there was a lot I needed to learn about the details of how the town works and wanted to approach this self-imposed training in the most efficient way,” Morrison said. “I wanted to do this because I know I will be making decisions that will have an impact on the town and I didn’t want to make decisions based upon assumptions. Also, I want to be a part of the conversation – and the only way to do that is to really know what you are talking about.”

Morrison first reached out to Town Manager Barry Tibbetts for guidance.

"It can be overwhelming when you first start to look at all the information you are given for a meeting. My advice was to have him meet with each department, perhaps one a week depending on his schedule,” Tibbetts said. “Staff would work around his schedule to spend an hour or two and talk about what they do, challenges they meet, etc.”

Morrison immediately set out and made appointments with all 15 of the town’s departments, meeting everyone on a one-to-one basis. Doug Fortier, Public Works Director, was one of the town employees that met with the new councilor. 

“I was very appreciative that Mark took the time getting to know how Public Works operates,” Fortier said. “I explained what we do as well as when, where, how and why we do it. He asked a lot of really good questions and was very attentive to the answers.”

In addition to speaking with the department heads, Morrison also gathered with Tibbetts and Susan Rossignol, Windham Finance Director, to go over the town’s budget in detail.

“I consider Barry and Susan my mentors through this process and I appreciated the time they spent with me,” Morrison said. “Basic finances are easy to understand but there are unique needs with municipality budgets – and Windham is no exception.”

In addition to Tibbets and Rossignol, Morrison said he also found mentors in Dave Nadeau (Town Council) and Tom Bartell (Executive Director, WEDC). “They also have been very helpful in guiding me through my learning curve.”

Within about a three-month period after his election, Morrison had met with everyone and learned quite a bit about the intricate ins and outs of local government. He was, however, surprised by the greatest lesson of all.

“I realized how much I had taken the town for granted,” Morrison said. “As a taxpayer for 30 years, I rarely attended town meetings, rarely took the time to watch the recorded videos. I represent a lot of taxpayers. I was busy raising children, working fulltime, coaching my son’s soccer team, and chauffeuring my daughter back and forth to dance practice and performances. And now, as a result of getting to know what the departments do and the challenges they face, I recognized that there is a lot that goes on to make this town run. There are so many town employees working long, hard hours to render Windham a good place to live and work. These people are not credited enough.”

One way Morrison realized he had been taking the town’s workforce for granted was after he had spoken to Fortier. “I thought that during snowstorms, Public Works had second and third shifts to keep our roads safe and clear of snow. But that is not the case at all. They sometimes work from 12 to 24-hour shifts. I was shocked to learn this.”

Morrison’s learning curve occurred during the pandemic, when new jobs and experiences are made more difficult due to the required social distancing, managing to acquire information all online instead of face to face. In fact, he has yet to meet the rest of the councilors in person.

Maxfield said, because of COVID, he has yet to have an opportunity to meet Morrison in person and is very impressed with the way he has handled the challenge. “I have yet to sit in a council chamber with Mark or shake his hand. Everything we have done has been virtual. I commend him for the extra work he has put in to learn what he needs to know because the learning curve for a new councilor is steep, and doubly so for a new councilor who can’t have face to face time with other councilors and town staff as we always have.”

For those who want to become more knowledgeable about the town in which you make your home, participating in its success, Morrison hopes that his self-imposed training program helps others along the way. Tibbets also offers his advice for those who may want to run for a Town Council seat.

“If you can attend a few meetings before joining a town committee, it will give you a flavor of what happens,” Tibbets said. “I encourage people to talk to a member or department head of that committee. It’s a good way to start. Having an open approach and asking questions is a great vehicle [to becoming a town leader].”

Tibbets also said that being on a committee is a way to meet new people, learn about the town, have a say in what Windham is and will be. “Sometimes meetings can be long but when you are with folks you enjoy, believe in the purpose – it is very doable and fun.”

Morrison, it seems, is having fun learning and leading Windham in an open and informed way. His focus as a council member is on continuing and supporting the family and age-friendly policies that Windham has begun establishing and to find ways to manage the growth of the town in a responsible manner.

In terms of creating jobs, Morrison has an idea. “I envision diversifying the industrial area north of town. I would like to see and support a business to move into town that could hire 50 people or more – who need highly skilled workers such as welders, engineers, etc.”

When Morrison is not working, in a town council meeting or volunteering his time, you will find him at home enjoying his family, which now includes a grandson.

Mark Morrison is always available to talk and listen to his constituents about town issues or to talk about becoming involved as a community leader. Feel free to reach out to him at 207-239-1328. <

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