The Mayor’s Corner

To me, the village is best defined as a community of “associations” working with, but independent from local government.

“The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow creatures and of acting in common with them.”

Alexis de Tocqueville

In 1831, political scientist and author Alexis de Tocqueville and his traveling companion, Gustave de Beaumont, sailed to the United States to undertake a nine-month tour on behalf of the French government. Although Tocqueville’s charge was to observe and report on America’s penal system, he found that he was much more interested in American democracy.

In his travels, he became aware of the widespread presence of civic organizations – as he termed them, associations. Local governments at the time had little to do with the day-to-day activities of the community. In most communities there were no municipally funded services like road maintenance, fire companies, or public welfare organizations. These services only came about when community members organized and provided the volunteer labor and private resources to address difficulties within the community or to enhance the general well-being.

Tocqueville, understanding that public charity in Europe was provided by the elite or by the church, recognized the value to the community when common people themselves created associations and took ownership of civic issues. He proclaimed that “…the art of joining in voluntary organizations [constitutes] the fundamental science of democracy.” But he cautioned “…that the more government takes the place of associations, the more will individuals lose the idea of forming associations and need the government to come to help. That is the vicious circle of cause and effect.”

I have referenced previously the writer Granville Hicks’ observation that only at the local level in small towns will you see democracy in its purest state. With limited public services because of our small tax base, villages like Franklin do not have the resources to provide a full complement of services. In situations where residents have decided that there is a need for amenities, “associations” have been formed (like our Rotary Club or our library association, or even our fire department) to supplement public services with volunteer help and donated funding. By providing donated time and money, residents of the Town of Franklin have enriched the community, while at the same time taken ownership of the operation of some of the key elements of the community.

Up until now, that is.

Currently, after years of having a steady supply of community volunteers coming forward to fill leadership positions and to serve as “worker bees,” it seems that the well is running dry. We are down to one person who is now taking responsibility to provide oversight for the village park. We are down to one community volunteer to coordinate the Recreation Program. The members of the tree replacement committee are aging out and are desperately in need of younger volunteers to pick up the slack. The Franklin Village Improvement Society, which is credited for creating the park as well as sponsoring and operating events like the Christmas Stroll and Old Franklin Days has been inactive since before the pandemic and was down to two members until recently. The Town of Franklin Foodbank which started out with tremendous volunteer support is still going strong but is seeing some attrition as well. The Franklin Fire Department and Emergency Squad are struggling to recruit enough volunteer personnel to meet the high standards that are essential for emergency service provision.

I don’t know how many visitors I’ve talked to who have remarked about what a special little community Franklin is. Yes, many of the houses are charming and yes, the Franklin Stage Company provides excellent entertainment. We have two nice restaurants, and the museum is a great resource for such a small community, but this does not define Franklin. To me, the village is best defined as a community of “associations” working with, but independent from local government. When these organizations are fully functioning, serving as a forum for ideas and as a mechanism to translate these ideas into innovations and community assets… well…to me this is what makes Franklin special.

Here is a list of some of the local organizations that could use your help:

Franklin Emergency Squad
Franklin Fire Department
Town and Village of Franklin Recreation Committee
Franklin Village Improvement Society
Franklin Village Park Committee
Edible Walking Trail Committee
Franklin Railroad and Community Museum
Franklin Food Bank
Franklin Library
Franklin Rotary Club
Franklin Tree Committee
Franklin Local

Please consider helping out. You can contact me if you need assistance in contacting a representative from one of these organizations at:

Tom Briggs, Mayor

Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of the New Franklin Register