Promoting the general welfare of Nantucket through informed citizen participation in community affairs, since 1903.
What, exactly, is the Nantucket Civic League?
The Nantucket Civic League, founded in 1903, is an island-wide, non-profit community organization that represents 24 neighborhood associations. The mission of the Civic League is to promote the general welfare of Nantucket through informed citizen participation in community affairs. The Nantucket Civic League has over 2,000 dues-paying family members, both year-round and seasonal residents. A totally volunteer organization, the Civic League functions on a year-round basis. It is governed by representatives of its member associations.
How is each area represented?
Each of the 24 member associations of the Civic League is represented on a Board of Delegates. In addition to one delegate, neighborhoods may also select additional representatives for each fifty members, up to five delegates. The Board meets monthly, on a year-round basis, on the first Monday of every month. Besides organizational business, these meetings generally feature an information forum focusing on matters of concern to the entire community and are open to the public.
How is the Civic League governed?
As well as the Board of Delegates, the Civic League is governed by a Board of Directors that also meets monthly, on the third Monday of the month. The Board of Directors, the members of which are elected to one-year terms at the Annual Meeting of the Civic League, is responsible for the ongoing operations and programs of the organization. In addition, the Presidents of the member associations come together twice a year, once in June and again in August, to share information about neighborhood concerns and to prioritize island-wide issues. This provides direction for the activities of the Civic League, especially in the off-season.
What does the Civic League do?
In striving to meet its mission of promoting informed citizen participation in community affairs, the Civic League conducts a variety of programs and activities designed to do just that — help Nantucket citizens become better informed. Some have described the Civic League as Nantucket’s version of the League of Women Voters, only more.
How about some specifics?
Preserving Island resources: The Civic League acquired ownership of Mill Hill Park from its predecessor organization (the Nantucket Improvement Association) and transferred it to Town ownership with the provision that it remain as parkland in perpetuity. A recent effort sought to permit using part of the park for construction of a new hospital. The Civic League expressed grave concerns, prompting the two warrant articles’ sound defeat at 2015 Annual Town Meeting.
The roughly 100 acres of land known as Camp Richard was transferred to the Nantucket Boy Scouts by the Civic League, with a reversion clause. That clause would transfer ownership back to the Civic League were it to be developed. When the regional council of the Boy Scouts, over the objection of the local troop, attempted in 2014 to sell a portion of the land to a developer, the Civic League filed suit. In October 2015, the Court ordered that the property be used exclusively as a campsite for the scouts on Nantucket or be deeded back to the NCL.
Improving the quality of Island living: Nantucket faces a severe lack of affordable workforce housing. In November 2015, the Civic League hosted a forum on this crisis. A consensus formed around having an organization like Housing Nantucket receive a modest, immediate infusion of resources and launching a limited “proof of concept” pilot-test program to link renters and owners. Owners would submit information on a website; prospective tenants would submit their applications; the organization itself would screen references, perform background checks, and otherwise vet tenants. Both owners and employees would pay a modest service charge.
Educating the public on Island issues: The Civic League sponsors public forums that provide information about matters of community-wide concern. Recent public forums have addressed the need for affordable workforce housing, coastal erosion, financing capital investments and the proliferation of seals and the effect on the fishing industry. Forums are videotaped, rebroadcast locally, and available “on demand” .
The Civic League also sponsors an annual “Meet the Candidates” program, enabling Nantucket voters to learn more about the individuals running for local offices. Annual “Meet the Articles” forums provide information before Annual Town Meeting about articles of interest on the warrant. MTC and MTA are widely known as the Civic League’s “signature events.”
Encouraging participation in Island government: As attendance at Annual and Special Town Meetings increases, there is insufficient parking at the high school where Town Meetings are held. In December 2015, the Civic League’s Executive Committee agreed to coordinate shuttle transportation to satellite parking lots to assure that Nantucket voters, particularly the elderly and handicapped, can fully participate in Town governance.
How is the Civic League funded?
Because the Civic League is a total volunteer organization, its budget is a modest one. In fact, one Nantucket non-profit director recently commented that it is highly unusual for an organization with such limited financial means to have as much influence in the community as the Civic League does. Each neighborhood association contributes five dollars per family to the Civic League. This generates the revenue that enables the Civic League to do what it does. It also frees the Civic League from the need to fundraise and allows it to concentrate on providing public information for Nantucket citizens. The annual operating budget of the Civic League is about $8,000.
Does the Civic League ever take public positions on issues?
Yes. Traditionally, the Civic League has reviewed the warrant articles prior to Annual Town Meeting and decided which, if any, articles on which it should take a public position. The Civic League takes a position on those issues that affect the entire island and only on the recommendation of the Board of Directors and approval by the Board of Delegates. At the 2005 Annual Town Meeting, for example, there were a total of 75 articles; the Civic League took positions on 7. The Civic League has also written letters in support of or in opposition to various matters, after study and review by its governing bodies.
So, what are the benefits of membership in the Civic League for each individual family?
Simply put, strength in numbers and information.
One member association might consider airplane noise, for example, a critical issue, or speeding. Through participation in the Civic League, that neighborhood learns that other areas of the island are dealing with the same concerns. The Civic League, in turn, advocates on the island-wide level for remedies to these concerns that will benefit all island neighborhoods. Amplified music, mosquitoes, intensification of existing commercial use in a residential area, salinity of drinking water, opening of our ponds, failed septic systems, the threat of a 40-B development: From experience, members of the Civic League know that one neighborhood’s problem today might be another neighborhood’s problem tomorrow. Like “one big beach,” in many ways Nantucket is one big neighborhood — and one small island.
When the Civic League speaks, it does so for 22 neighborhood associations, for nearly 1,600 families. When the Civic League speaks, the community listens. Why? Because the Civic League has earned a reputation for doing its homework, for speaking out only after becoming informed — and because the Civic League advocates not just for one, narrow interest, but for the interests of the community-at-large.
Finally, membership in the Civic League helps each individual become better informed about issues that impact not only their neighborhood, but also the entire island. It provides all members with a year-round presence — and voice — regarding these matters. Most importantly, it enables Nantucket citizens to cast informed votes, both at Annual Town Meeting and at the ballot box. This is becoming increasingly important as the issues become increasingly complex. Informed voters casting informed votes benefit the entire community, year-round as well as seasonal residents.
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