Sen. Matt Pouliot Speaks on How Collaboration, Communication and Trust Can Improve Maine’s Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak
Hello. I am Senator Matt Pouliot I proudly represent Senate District 15 which are the towns of Augusta, China, Oakland, Sidney and Vassalboro.
With a sincere desire to help the administration of Governor Janet Mills to do the best that it can to help Maine through a global pandemic, I cannot help but listen to what I hear from my constituents and offer some frankly unsolicited advice that I hope will be useful to those who manage the government of the state and people I love and serve.
What comes through in the thousands of emails, phone calls, and social media posts from my constituents is the need and desire to trust the decisions being made on their behalf, and what I am hearing very strongly is that trust, unfortunately, is lacking.
In most cases, this is easily remedied. For the most part, and I think this is true in any crisis, people feel uncomfortable or fearful because they do not understand the process behind the decisions being made.
For example, when people read reports that Maine is the only state in the country that does not report the number of COVID-19 tests it has conducted each day and the other five New England states have been providing full data to the public since March, they are uneasy about why the government they elected is withholding this information from them.
When they hear the answers as to why this is the case and they simply don’t make sense, trust between the people and their government erodes.
The Mills administration has made decisions about reopening businesses in Maine on a county by county basis but refuses to provide the public with county-level information on the number of tests it has conducted. To the lay person, hearing that state government only has data on tests that result as positive but not those that are negative, makes no sense.
When one performs a test and gets a result, it is either positive or negative, and those performing the test simply check one box or the other on the report. If they completed the test, they have the data, but our state government will only report the positive tests.
It is not difficult to understand why anger and mistrust result from a lack of information. It is natural for people to fear the unknown and to lose trust for those who have left them uninformed in a crisis.
This is at the heart of the problem that I see and hear about from my constituents every day.
The people I hear from have no idea who Governor Mills relies upon when making key decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of Mainers. More often than not, they do not see the logic behind these decisions, leaving them to imagine that there is no real logical basis for them.
It is clearer to me by the day that Governor Mills has to focus her energies on two key priorities, involving more people publicly in the processes that lead to her decisions, and becoming more open in communicating the reasons behind those decisions.
Proper collaboration and open communication help to build trust. At the very least, they reduce mistrust.
Yesterday, during a meeting with the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on and Labor and Housing, members of both parties lashed out at Governor Mills for refusing to allow Labor Commissioner Fortman to appear and never notifying the committee that she would not attend. The anger exhibited by every member present was a clear example of what happens when communication breaks down and trust is dissolved.
As a general rule, the outcomes of decisions are more effective when more people are included in the decision-making process and the reasons behind the decision are clearly explained. On the other hand, lack of inclusiveness and explanation leads to confusion, fear, and anger. In times of great crisis, these emotions are greatly magnified.
People may disagree with a decision, and that’s fine, but they may find some comfort in knowing, at least, that there was a sound logical basis behind that decision.
Governor Mills and her administration would do well to recognize the need that people have for honest, open communication and build a stronger connection with the people she serves by fulfilling that need.
Again, I am Senator Matt Pouliot of District 15.
Be safe and be well.