well, the first thing is to discover when the town meeting schedule is. if you can go to those meetings, then you'll know what is going on and can speak up about what you want.
another thing is to elect the right officials. our small town had a strong old-boys network, and it took some doing to 'break' that. we have a green party that runs each year, but they haven't won yet. nevertheless, it is progress.
anyway, the GOB network loved to just do what worked out for them and their families. so, for example, the contract to do snow for the municipal buildings was a son or son in law of one of the GOBs. things like that were common. I would always make sure it got into the record (via my statements) that the person chosen was a *relative* of the political official. the green party would then use this information in their campaigns, pointing out that these people were funneling township money to their family and family members.
it has shaken the GOBs up quite a bit.
the other thing that works is forming an organization that wants these sorts of changes. start a green party in your area, or just a club. the club will focus on cool things like going door to door with petitions asking the local government to get more recycling or whatever. then go to the town meetings and get on the record and make sure that there is a record of the petition (that it is legal and appropriately filed).
this does get things done, honestly. we went from less recycling to more, and are still working on getting even more done. snow removal is done by a new cmpany, now saving the township money (because it was the lowest bidder, NOT a relative).
it can improve. but it does take effort.