Residents say town manager legislation goes too far

by susan on January 31, 2012

Post image for Residents say town manager legislation goes too far

There were no fireworks at last night’s well-attended public meeting to discuss the pros and cons of moving to a town manager form of government – just plenty of thoughtful discussion. I was impressed all around.

Most of those who spoke last night at the Senior Center had concerns about the 11-page draft legislation released last week, saying it went too far and created a town manager that would be too powerful.

The Metrowest Daily News did a nice recap of the meeting, so I’ll let you read all the details there, but here are some of the soundbites that stuck with me.

“What we’ve tried to do here is keep a balance, to keep the long term interests of the town in mind.” –-Joseph Laning, Chairman of the Drafting Committee for Town Manager Legislation

“I have been a proponent of a town manager form of government for ten or more years, but I’m concerned about this draft, to be frank. I think it reaches too far. It consolidates too much power in the town manager.” –Al Hamilton, former member of the Advisory Committee

“We’ve been functioning this way with town bylaws since 1727 when we broke away from Marlborough. I don’t know how broken the system is…I think this town does run pretty well.” –Louis Fazen, Chairman of the Board of Health

“Comments that it’s not broken are short-sighted…If you think it’s not broken, you haven’t been sitting near the sausage factory like I have.” –John Butler, Advisory Committee member

“I think it was Harry Truman who said, ‘When you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship.'” –Sam Stivers, former Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals

“If you don’t believe in the system vote it down, don’t water it down. If you water down the authority of the town manager, I think you will not get a top qualified candidate.” –Bill Boland, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen

Where you at the meeting last night? What did you think of the arguments pro and con? Is the draft legislation on the money, or does it go too far? Share your impressions in the comments.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, you can check out the latest draft of the legislation here (PDF). For a summary of the key changes, take a look at the presentation from last night’s meeting (PDF).

1 Tim Martel January 31, 2012 at 12:07 PM

I attended the meeting last night, and agree that the conversation was thoughtful and thought provoking. The overall message from the majority of speakers was that the concept of a Strong Town Manager, as currently written, holds too much power. Not that a town manager is necessarily a bad idea, but that the immediate implementation of a town manager with “sovereign authority” is too great a change for a town that has enjoyed a very democratic form of government for nearly 300 years.

Personally, I feel that the mandate given to the current Drafting Board is far too narrow. Multiple speakers proposed alternatives, and I can list several that come to mind:
1. Maintaining the current system.
2. Maintaining the town administrator and endowing via Town Council vote some of the Selectmen’s current powers onto the department heads.
3. Implementing a weaker form of Town Manager (example: one that does not hold authority over elected boards).
4. Implementing a strong Town Manager, but in a step-wise fashion with “breaks” – opportunities over time for Town Council to stop the process if it is not working.
5. The current proposal, which is an immediate Strong Town Manager.

Frankly, I don’t believe that the voters have been given an opportunity to understand and review the pros and cons of the various options that are available. My hope is that the Drafting Committee takes the feedback and modifies their recommendation. A weaker Town Manager to start makes a lot of sense, and is a platform that can continue to evolve over time as the town’s needs change.

As a final note, I continue to feel strongly that the Problem Statement is inadequate. It is based on the opinion of “the few” which, though experienced and well-versed, is not fact. The term “efficiency” needs to be detailed with numbers. If there are historical issues/problems that are the root driver of this effort, then these need to be explained (as painful for some as that might be). Not every voter has lived in town for 10+ years, and many are not aware of this context. I believe that if the problem is not communicated more clearly and with a better foundation, this effort will fall short.

2 Al Hamilton January 31, 2012 at 1:05 PM

I have been in favor of a move to a Town Manager form of govt for over 10 years. The drafting committee has done yeoman’s work and I am sure that it is no fun to have people pick apart a carefully crafted proposal. I regret that in its current form I cannot support the proposal for the following reasons:

In its current form the proposal transfers authority, in the form of employee reporting status and budget authority to the Town Manager and Board of Selectmen from the following organizations: Board of Health, Town Clerk, K-8 School Committee, Regional School Committee, Advisory Committee, Planning Board, Board of Assessors, Board of Library Trustees, The Moderator, Town Meeting and a few others. The scope of the authority of the Town Manager should be initially restricted to the functions currently under the Board of Selectmen. It provide for future consolidation on a case by case basis by majority vote of Town Meeting at some future date but the Manager will have their hands full with the Selectmen’s current set of responsibilities.

The proposal significantly overreaches in making responsibility for a balanced budget proposal the Town Managers. This is an inappropriate usurpation of the responsibility which lies in the Towns legislative branch, Town Meeting. Nowhere in the town bylaws is the responsibility of proposing a balanced budget given to the Board of Selectmen. That responsibility is given to the The Advisory Committee, which is a subcommittee Town Meeting appointed by the Moderator.

The proposal has the Town Manager making appointments to town boards. I believe that that is a function properly left to the people we elect to govern.

The proposal is too specific in tying the hands of the Selectmen in the specifying the process for selecting a Town Manager. We elect capable intelligent people to office. They can design a process that meets their needs when the issue arises.

There are a number of bland statements which are purely aspirational which should be eliminated for the sake of brevity.

There are a few other concerns but these are the major ones. All of these can be addressed and a dialed back proposal would have a far better chance of passage. I fear that the current will be broadly opposed and will under the best of circumstances lead to amendment after amendment on the floor of town meeting which in the end is not likely to produce a good result if passed and more likely than not to fail.

The committee has done great work in bringing the issue to the fore for discussion and debate but needs to go forward with a simpler, more modest proposal to gain the broadest support. We have operated under the current system since 1727 we can take a few years to transition in a step by step fashion. Let us make a success of a more limited scope for a Town Manager and then discuss further consolidation.

3 Neil Rossen February 1, 2012 at 10:23 AM

I am not up on this stuff, but anything that removes budget authority from the schools sounds good. Maybe there is a catch. The school budgers are the nub of what drives the financials in Southborough. To me it seems that those responsible for those budgets have not sufficiently taken taxpayers into consideration. No doubt Al and others will set me straight on this.

4 JM February 4, 2012 at 10:07 PM

Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe ,according to the proposal of TM apppointment, the TM really has no authority of any kind when it relates to the schools. Why is this? Do we really have a school committe that in -the-end not accountable to any body.

5 Al Hamilton February 5, 2012 at 8:56 AM


The only power that a TM can have with respect to the schools is the power that is vested in the BOS with respect to the Schools (we all have the “bully pulpit”) . When it comes to operating budgets the BOS has no formal authority at all. I believe that this is enshrined in State Law. If you want to have an impact you need to do it at at the Ballot Box or on the floor of Town Meeting by amending or voting against the School Budget (or any other budget you think is too high). Voting down a budget will force the relevant executive to come back with a new budget proposal. It is a blunt instrument but it is effective.

The BOS does have some authority with respect to schools in other areas. It negotiates the Regional Agreement, and it manages the process of building a new school. It turns the new school over to the School Committee and after that has no more authority. The BOS also has the authority with respect to packaging of Prop 2.5 overrides. It can decide to lump the school portion of the override together with the municipal portions or it can decide to have them stand on their own.

6 John Boiardi February 2, 2012 at 8:42 AM


Great point regarding balanced budget proposal.


7 John Butler January 31, 2012 at 1:47 PM

The quote from me in this story, although accurate, might suggest I disagreed with Al Hamilton. However, my statement last night made it clear that, although I think it is very important that we reorganize the functions already under the Board of Selectmen, this draft goes too far. It lets the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager take over functions such as the Library which are now managed by independent boards. That is excessive and undesirable. We need to get the balance right, and we don’t have that with the current draft.

Town Meeting should not pass this in the form it exists today. Maybe it will be modified before we get to Town Meeting, which would be far the best, This can happen if the Drafting Committee listens to the citizen input. If not, we’ll need to consider fixing it at Town Meeting, which is somewhat burdensome and a less attractive solution.

8 John Boiardi January 31, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Town Manager of Parts of the Town or Town Manager of the (whole) Town???

I heard the comments regarding over reaching, too much to fast?
Either you are for a strong town manager or your not.
My question is–what about the many towns that have a strong town manager and a Town Meeting (legislative body?). Are they all poorly run? It seems to me to be the prevalent form of town government . Are these towns and townspeople way off base? Should these towns revert back to our 274 year old form of government?

You are either for change or not. Unfortunately most people are not for change.

Unless someone can describe why a strong TM form of government has failed in all these other towns I say it’s time to update our form of government.
Do they (strongTM) represent the townspeople? Does not the TM still legislate the will of the people even with a strong TM?

9 Tim Martel January 31, 2012 at 5:53 PM

Change for its own sake is never a positive. To change just because the current system is old is similarly flawed. Our entire system of law and government is centuries old – should that be scrapped in its entirety just for the sake of change?

Not all towns share the same values as the voters of Southborough. It is not reasonable to jump into a decision because “someone else” did so previously. Also note that many towns similar to Southborough in terms of size and values do not have a strong Town Manager. Framingham, Marlboro, and Westborough have Town Managers, but do they serve as a good basis for comparison? Are their values comparable to Southborough?

What you should be asking is why the voters should consolidate a truly significant amount of power in a single person that does not directly report to them. Someone who, unlike the Selectmen, is not a volunteer only seeking to serve the town.

You should also read Mr. Hamilton’s post above.

10 Al Hamilton January 31, 2012 at 7:44 PM


Please do not misunderstand me; I believe that the right form of Town Manager is desirable for Southborough. I certainly respect the fact that we have governed ourselves for 285 years under the structure we have today and that is a very powerful argument against change. It is a record we can all take pride in Town Meeting and the BOS are older than Congress, the Presidency and most governments on earth. Done properly this step is an evolutionary step in our so far successful experiment in self government.

There are some bad reasons to make this change. They include:

Town Employees Don’t Like the Budget Process – The budget process is supposed to be uncomfortable. The department heads are asking Town Meeting to force a widow living on a fixed income to hand over a portion of here diminishing wealth to support their efforts. We as a community have an obligation to each and every citizen and tax payer to scrutinize every use of the public’s money. Be very wary when the town employees are happy with the budget process, something is amiss.

Other Towns Do It – Your mom gave you the answer to this when you were 6.

It Will Make Us More Efficient – Anyone who makes this claim bears the burden of telling me how much my taxes will decline. Absent that it is just idle talk.

Inconsistent Direction When The BOS Changes – It is called democracy it is why we vote.

However, there are a number of good reasons to make this change. These include:

Freeing the BOS From the Most Mundane Tasks – I would much rather our talented elected officials were focused on bigger issues such as, “What to do with our decaying municipal infrastructure?”, “Should we investigate consolidating Fire/Police/DPW functions with a bordering city or town?”, “Should we remain in the Cemetery business?”, “Should we close the Transfer Station?”, “Should we make Southborough Greener?”, “Should we start privatizing functions now provided by public workers?”. I also believe the BOS would benefit from more regular meetings with other boards and committees in town in tackling the future of our community.

Town Departments Would Benefit From Day to Day Oversight. – I believe that some of the personnel flair ups that have embarrassed us all, and sapped us of energy and treasure, could have been nipped in the bud by a skilled manager. Being directly managed is going to be a challenge for some of managers in town but it is a plus.

Town Managers Bring a New Perspective – I believe that on the whole TM’s are a mobile lot (at least by govt standards) I believe they stay about 5 or 6 years in a town and then move on (up if they are any good). Town departments are a pretty insular and ingrown group. This has its merits and demerits. I believe we would benefit from a regular infusion of new leadership that would challenge long established ways of doing business.

This change can be evolutionary and should be done in a step by step fashion. With 285 years of successful self government under our belt we can afford to take the long view. The first step is putting the functions currently under the BOS in the hands of a Town Manager and then let success dictate how we evolve this model.

11 John Boiardi February 1, 2012 at 7:59 AM

Who said change the town’s form of government just for change sake? Why did we appoint a committee to evaluate our form of government? The reason for the committee was to evaluate and make recommendations, which they have. The committee has recommended change not just for change sake.
The school committe is elected. They appoint a Superintendant ( strong) who then controls 70% of our tax dollars. We propose a Town Manager (strong) that would control the remainder of the budget except for the library, Board of Health, and Town Clerk. What’s left? It seems to me all we are doing is adding two selectman if the TM doesn’t supervise all remaining departments and budgets. Don’t forget the selectmen would have oversite of the TM preventing any drastic actions or policies.

Regarding Framingham, they have a Reresentative Town Meeting form of government. Not the same as an open town meeting form.

12 John Boiardi February 1, 2012 at 9:16 AM


13 Tim Martel February 1, 2012 at 1:16 PM

“Don’t forget the selectmen would have oversite of the TM preventing any drastic actions or policies.”

If only it was that easy…

Let’s say there is an issue with Library funding. To get rid a TM, the town would potentially have to first get rid of 3 Selectmen (assuming we move to a group of 5). Then the Town would have to go through a lengthy process once the Selectman actually initiate the removal. And by that time, whatever the issue is has become a “fait accompli”. And even if it worked, there is the Golden Parachute to worry about…and the potential lawsuits…

Is this guaranteed to happen? No. But its built into the system as currently written.

14 John Boiardi February 2, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Quite a flight of fancy.

15 Resident February 3, 2012 at 11:43 AM

I find Tim’s scenario more realistic than fanciful considering how our upper-level town employees have been performing the past few years. We don’t need a more powerful town employee (hired by the same “good-old-boy” town process) who we pay a mint and can’t get rid of when they don’t perform well. Any additional power given to anyone we can’t vote out of office is a very poor idea. There has to be a way to streamline the process without giving up oversight.

16 John Boiardi February 4, 2012 at 7:43 AM

Please explain the process described by Tim. To get rid of a TM you first have to get rid of three selectmen. Huh! What about an employment contract with a new TM? If there was malfeasance or corruption it would seem to me the BOS
would have the power to fire. I don’t understand why we would have to get rid of three selectmen first. Regarding lawsuits that is a potential with or with out a contract.

17 Resident February 4, 2012 at 4:55 PM

Yes, in theory that might be true, but in reality, the BOS has shown that they protect and defend employees to the detriment of the taxpayers. They are reluctant to do the dirty work that needs to be done when an employee steps out of line. Granted if there was a very extreme instance of corruption they might act, but in politics it is rarely that cut and dried. It is easier to have a quiet little conversation, dole out a weak slap on the wrist (for appearances mind you) and go on with business as usual.

18 John Boiardi January 31, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Correction. Does not the Town Meeting still legislate the will of the people even with a strong town manager

19 John Boiardi February 5, 2012 at 7:17 AM


You may be right.

20 Bonnie Phaneuf January 31, 2012 at 7:00 PM

FREE Assistance.

Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services
Financial Management Assistance Program
Southborough took advantage of this service in 1995.

21 Tim Martel February 6, 2012 at 4:59 PM

Bonnie, do you know if a copy of this 1995 report is available? It is not listed on the website. Thanks.

22 Doc D'Errico January 31, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Chane is always scary, but frankly it’s not always necessary. Yes, there are great examples of towns who are functioning this way now, but there are also towns who are functioning well without a town manager. There are also towns with town management and mayors who are as corrupt as some of the greatest movies in that genre; read the newspaper.

The expanded Southborough government would also carry costs which have not clearly been spelled out and frankly I’m not sure why we haven’t allowed the compromise position identified in Tim Martel’s comment to more strongly empower the department managers.

While I agree that a Town Manager would need strong powers as stated by Bill Boland, the problems in this town are worsened by heavy politics and a Town Manager is not likely to act independently of those, in fact, they may amplify them taking away the voters’ voice.

While I also agree with Al Hamilton’s opening comment that it’s not fun to have one’s work picked apart, it’s not quite clear what solves which issue.

Empower the department heads, identify where stronger management is needed, then draft the powers necessary for that role — if it’s still needed at all.

23 John Boiardi February 1, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Name two towns functioning well with out a town manager. Don’t name Hudson which has an Executive Assistant with all the powers of a strong town manager.

Someone posted graft and corruption as a reason not to change. I would ask for the names of an entity that has not experienced graft or corruption.

24 Tim Martel February 1, 2012 at 1:08 PM

Go to this wiki entry to look at MA municipalities:

Sort the table by population.
Find Southborough.
Sort by population (ascending).

Adams: town admin, pop:8485
Monson: town admin, pop:8560
Freetown: town admin, pop:8870
Littleton: town admin, pop:8924
Townsend: town admin, pop:8926
Sutton: town admin, pop: 8963
Middleton: town admin, pop:8987
Blackstone: town admin, pop:9026
Sturbridge: town admin, pop:9268
Southwick: chief adminstrative officer, pop:9502
Southborough: town admin, pop:9767
Brewster: town admin, pop:9820
Ware: town manager, pop:9872
Lunenberg: town manager, pop:10086
Maynard: town admin, pop:10106
Nantucket: town manager, pop:10172
Hanson: town admin, pop:10209
Hull: town manager, pop:10293
Winchendon: town manager, pop:10300
Acushnet: town admin, pop:10303
Norwell: town admin, pop:10506
Lakeville: town admin, pop:10602
Groton: town manager, pop:10646
Holbrook: town admin, pop:10791
Wrentham: town admin, pop:10955
Leicester: town admin, pop:10970
Norfolk: town admin, pop:11227
Weston: town manager, pop:11261
Tyngsboro: town admin, pop:11292
Dudley: town admin, pop:11390

25 John Boiardi February 1, 2012 at 3:23 PM

What conclusion can you draw from the list of towns that have a Town Manager?

26 SB Resident February 1, 2012 at 6:04 PM

Great post Tim. Looks like we’d be the smallest town in the state to need a town manager. I would say the town most similar to ours on the list that has a town manager is Groton. Anybody have any data on how much better their town got after they switched to TM?

I’m with Neil. Lets do what will lower our budget. I’d love to see studies showing the before and after budgets of towns that switched to TM. But, personally I doubt this will fix anything, problems will just shift around. Change does not equal progress, and I generally prefer the devil I know.

27 John Boiardi February 2, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Tax rates:
Southborough. $15.58
Groton. $16.38
Ware. $15.89

Ware is more comparable in population than Groton.

28 Marnie Hoolahan February 8, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Hi Tim,

As a member of the committee attempting to meet the mandate of Article 33, majority approved at last year’s town meeting, to write the special legislation for a Town Manager and 5 person Board of Selectmen. I think it is so important to have some of this debate as not many people have attended the 10 months of public meetings that we have held. Unfortunately, this blog is also biased in its sample selection and only those with internet, interest and a solid block of time appear to participate. Hopefully we can assess the best approach for our town and disseminate that best approach in the special legislation far ahead of Town Meeting for ample preparation.

I wanted to comment on this particular post. I spent a lot of time conducting comparative analyses and through that research, I learned that the terms “town administrator” and “town manager” are sometimes used to mean the same thing. Some towns have chosen to keep the name “town administrator”, if you review the actual charter documents or special acts, many towns have adopted a “strong town manager” form of government but have used the terminology “town administrator.”

I am attaching a link to an older article about why a town would begin to consider alternative forms of government:

I also believe that the Massachusetts Managers Organization found at: offers some insight on the Town Administrator/Town Manager role among other things.

Of course, the Collins Center: who we have hired as our consultants also provide some terrific insight as you continue to research.

Finally, our website has a lot of research posted that you can review as well:

Please continue your diligence and I would love a grass roots effort by everyone reading this post to convince your neighbors and friends to get involved in understanding the Town Manager legislation.

29 John Boiardi February 9, 2012 at 7:30 AM


A great post ! You have put to rest in my mind regarding “strong” regardless of whether it is a town manager or town administrator. It will all depend on how the charter is written and how strong we make the position regardless of name.

30 Pilgrim January 31, 2012 at 11:00 PM

This may seem like a simplistic POV but many of Southborough’s residents settled here because it is still a small, residential, historic town. Do we really see Marlborough, Framingham, and Westborough as our role models?

31 Neil Rossen February 1, 2012 at 11:00 AM

If that’s what it takes to put a lid on propert taxes I’m for it. I moved here 27 years ago for some of the the reasons others did. Efficiency in how our taxes are spent is better than quaintness alone.

32 John Boiardi February 1, 2012 at 3:45 PM

What town(s) do you feal are role models? What is their tax rate, tax base, school costs/ranking, average home value, average RE tax bill, water resources /bill etc?
Why did we commission a committee to evaluate and make recommendations regarding our present method of governance?

So far it seems that the sentimate is that all we should change is a Town Manager IPO a Town Administrator (at a higher salary) and add two selectmen. However powerful the new position is it will still need the oversight and support of the BOS.

33 John Boiardi February 2, 2012 at 8:46 AM

Again, who ever said that we should compare ourselves to Framingham, Westboro or Marlboro?

34 Tim Martel February 2, 2012 at 9:19 AM

The MA Department of Revenue has a division that performs Financial Mgt Reviews of towns. Its unfortunate that the current or previous Drafting Board did not take advantage of this resource.

What is interesting is that the reports don’t often recommend a town manager for towns that haven’t approached the 50 million revenue mark. For these towns, they seem to prefer to recommend changes to the existing system that range from providing the town admin with appointing powers to the town hiring a financial director to oversee the budget process and work in conjunction with the admin.

35 John Boiardi February 2, 2012 at 4:13 PM

Great website.
Check out the town of Ware. They are about Southborough’s size and they just reverted to a Town Manager. Ware’s problem appears to be that most of the town officials BO’S,etc were also town employees .

36 John Boiardi February 3, 2012 at 8:14 AM

Mr Martel,
From your DOR link (town of Ware),

” the features that the DOR would typically recommend to a town: a town charter, strong professional manager, appointed financial positions, a financial management team and early revenue forecasts”.

It seems to me that’s the changes being recommended.

37 Al Hamilton February 3, 2012 at 10:12 AM


I hesitate to be cynical but I am reminded of the quote “Hi we are from the government and we are here to help you.”

I think I will take advice from the Commonwealth with a healthy dose of salt. Bureaucrats recommending that bureaucrats be given greater power in other parts of the government?????

38 John Boiardi February 3, 2012 at 2:55 PM

I agree. I was just pointing out the difference in the recommendation and lament by Tim regarding the committee not considering or taking advantage of the advice of the DOR. Tim offered his opinion on their advice, I offered a direct quote.

39 Bonnie Phaneuf February 1, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Muncipal Manager Employmet Agreements MMMA agreements

40 John Kendall February 1, 2012 at 5:05 PM

Bonnie, I clicked your link which brought me to the MMMA website, but I got the massage PAGE NOT FOUND

41 Bonnie Phaneuf February 1, 2012 at 6:09 PM

Municipal Manager Employment Agreements MMMA
type in the following;

Other resource found on this same site FORM OF GOVERNMENT

42 Al Hamilton February 1, 2012 at 7:40 PM

Several posters here have expressed the hope that a TM form of govt will be able to have some impact on our school budgets. The answer is that in any TM form of govt the TM will have exactly the same amount of authority over School Operating Budgets as the BOS and TA have now. None.

The School committees are completely independent of the BOS before and will continue to be after this proposed change. Any word in the document to the contrary are completely illusory. State law gives complete authority over the operation of schools to the School Committees.

In every New England town there is a tension between the Municipal functions and the school functions. Schools account for roughly 65% of our budget and that engenders some jealousy on the part of the municipal departments who would like a bigger piece of the pie.

The BOS has tried for years to cut the schools budgets with no success. The idea that a TM is going to control school costs is a fools errand. The BOS would be well advised to accept that they have no control in this area and focus on the the things they can control.

43 Mark Ford February 2, 2012 at 7:28 AM

…or resign from the Selectmen and run for School Committee!

44 Neil Rossen February 2, 2012 at 8:42 AM

In that case, Al, , why would anyone care at all if we switch to a TM?

45 Al Hamilton February 2, 2012 at 9:42 AM


There are other reasons to move to a TM form of govt that I have enumerated above. Regrettably, near term efficiency is not one of them.

46 Karen Muggeridge February 3, 2012 at 6:03 PM

The process for disciplining/suspension or termination of the TM as outlined in the draft document I believe, and is no more cumbersome than the process for any other town employee. (Albeit, not something that we would want to do for any employee.)

As it is written now, the draft calls for the selection committee to be made up of five citizens, although good suggestions were made to amend that.

If you don’t like the funding for, let’s say the library, and you choose not to be involved in the budgetary process until ATM, go to ATM and exercise your right to be heard and vote on your library funding issue. The TM position in no way changes that.

Tim, (and others), appreciating your cynicism, but it can not be ignored that our system, is, and has not been functioning efficiently, or fiscally well for quite some time. History makes it clear even without the reports of a study from six years ago, by people without an agenda, which came to the same conclusion and recommended the town move to a TM. Why are you against what can improve and retain our small town governance structure, while also taking on the more business like model that Southborough warrants.

The TM draft as it stands can use some tweaking, but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. This town deserves better and needs to move forward and make progress in it’s growth.

47 Al Hamilton February 4, 2012 at 8:47 AM


Like you I support the idea of a TM form of govt. However, I think this draft needs more than a tweak.

John Butler pointed out that this is a massive transfer of authority from the other executive boards to the BOS and TM. The example he gave was the Library Board. Suppose that the Library Board wanted a budget of $425,000 and the TM wanted a budget of $400,000. Under the current system the amount of $425,000 would be printed in the budget and could be amended downward but not above the $425,000 on the floor of Town Meeting. Under the new system the amount of $400,000 would be printed in the Warrant effectively removing the additional $25,000 from consideration by Town Meeting and overriding Library Board recommendation and Town Meetings ability to debate and decide the issue on its merits.

We have a number of single purpose executive boards such as the Board of Health, Planning and the Library. They administer staff and budgets. On the whole, I believe they do a very good job because we have elected dedicated and talented people to oversee these functions and their focus is narrow. The proposal strips these boards of authority over their budgets and staff. In short this part of our executive structure is not broken and should not be “fixed”.

If, after the BOS makes a success of the TM managing the functions currently under its authority, they want to make a proposal to integrate one of the currently independent functions let them make that proposal and Town Meeting can debate and decide the issue on its merits.

We need to address another issue which is the Town Clerk language in the article. The proposal creates an appointed Town Clerk, appointed by the TM. However, it permits the current occupant of the office, Mr. Berry, to remain in place until he retires. I have no beef with Mr. Berry, I think he provides the town with good value for money and performs his duties effectively. But, I object on principle to creating what is in effect a life appointment this is a very very bad thing to do. This is another example of how this document appears to try and insulate town workers from the will of the voters.

48 Jane Smith February 5, 2012 at 10:28 AM


Thanks for setting the record straight. Library Trustees’ understanding of what would happen to the Library budget is the same as yours and John Butler’s, and it is very concerning to us. As you recall, two years ago Advisory and BOS wanted to cut our budget by 4.6%. Trustees put their own article on the warrant, seeking level funding. At Town Meeting, voters heard both sides of the story and voted nearly unanimously to support level funding for the Library. It was democracy at its best and took maybe a half hour of people’s time. If Trustees are to remain elected, as the DCTML is proposing, we believe it follows that they should maintain control of the Library budget, with the power to put its requested appropriation on the warrant and defend it at Town Meeting, if necessary. We believe that having Trustees without that power disenfranchises the people who elected them. Ideally, a Town Manager and Trustees would work out a budget acceptable to all – as we usually do now with the BOS and Advisory – but Trustees need recourse when that does not happen. What if the Town Manager doesn’t value the Library as much as its citizens do, and slashes services? Should voters really have no recourse? Who better to decide than the people who pay the bills? Trustees have submitted many questions to the DCTML to ensure that we are correctly interpreting their intent. We look forward to their response.

49 Tim Martel February 4, 2012 at 10:20 AM

Its become clear that a significant number, possibly a majority, of citizens are not persuaded that the Strong TM option is appropriate for Southborough. What is undeniable is that the power that currently resides with the BOS (as well as additional powers that the BOS never had!) will be taken a step further from the voters, and there are consequences that are being glossed over by those who just want to push it through.

Should the town manager and BOS come to a decision that is contrary to the will of the voters, it will be very hard for the voters to counter them in the short term. A very specific grievance with the document is that the suspension/termination process includes a clause that allows it to be completely superseded by a specific employment agreement between the BOS and an applicant – something over which the voters have no say. Further, the current document has been crafted for the purpose of luring a strong town manager to Southborough – it should have been crafted with the town’s best interests in mind. The scenario that I previously posted in regards to the difficulties in replacing a strong town manager is entirely valid (and doesn’t even take into account what happens if the process is superseded, which would be a nightmare).

Southborough would be the smallest town in the state to have a strong TM. The state department of revenue does not seem to recommend that a town move to strong TM until revenue starts to reach 50 mil. Its natural for the voters to ask for more information and to want to discuss other options before considering such a plunge.

One final point in reply to your comment – if someone has an alternative point of view, it is not appropriate to try to label them with a negative term. Its not a matter of being “cynical”, or a matter or being “against”. We all want what is best for the town. This is a constructive dialogue. Let’s keep it that way.

50 Al Hamilton February 4, 2012 at 11:14 AM


Most of the senior department heads have employment agreements with the town. I I believe the Fire Cheif, Police Cheif, Town Admin. and DPW Super. all have employment agreements. The logic, for better and worse is that an employment agreement insulates these managers from some of the vagaries of local politics and permits them the security to make difficult decisions. I believe that any of these personnel can be dismissed by their supervisors but we will pay dearly for that privilege. I don’t think there was anything different envisioned for an agreement with the TM.

As for the BOS doing something that aggravates the voters as a practical matter there are only 2 levers that can be pulled to change the situation. At the ballot box we can vote in new Selectpersons. I do not believe that we have a provision for a recall. Perhaps you would like to offer an amendment to that effect. I would be in favor of that. The second lever is the budget. Town meeting is sovereign, it cannot be forced (except for a few minor items) to appropriate monies for operating budgets. If a TM acted badly in the eyes of a group of citizens they could come to town meeting and vote down the TM budget. No money, No TM. I am certain we would still be obliged to pay that person any severance that was due in the contract.

Tim – I think you are raising some important points that need discussion and effective rebuttal. I sense no cynicism just honest discussion even if I think you might be wrong.

51 Resident February 4, 2012 at 9:05 PM

A very good post and I whole-heartedly agree with you Tim.

52 John Boiardi February 5, 2012 at 2:32 PM

Mr Martel ,

Could you point to a report or document where the DOR “doesn’t seem to recommend that a town move to a strong town manager until revenue starts to reach 50mil”.

53 Tim Martel February 6, 2012 at 4:57 PM

The Hopkinton report was the one I read with the recommendation to move to a town manager form of government. Page 5 of this report discusses their rationale and mentions the complexity that arrives once the town begins to reach 50 mil – the increasing complexity at this point is the business case for the stronger town manager.

I also looked at several reports for smaller towns that have not reached the 50 mil mark, one of which was Maynard, and none of which contained a recommendation for a town manager position. The Maynard report recommended that the town admin and the BOS redefine their working relationship but did not go so far as to suggest a transfer of power. The others were similar.

54 Neil Rossen February 4, 2012 at 10:21 AM

Progress will come when Southborough stops being overburdened with rising school salaries and expenses while enrolment is forecast to decline.

55 P. Inge February 4, 2012 at 11:24 PM

Neil, there’s a seat about to open on the school committee I believe. Are you planning on running? Just wondering.

56 Neil Rossen February 5, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Interesting thought M.Inge. I fear I may be too polarizing as my positions on the schools are so radically clear.

57 Karen Muggeridge February 4, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Al is correct in his description of the proposed budget process and I stand corrected.

As Al states, the current draft does make a change from today’s practice. The draft of the TM proposal as it is now, would limit your right to vote for the request of, for example, the Library Trustees under some circumstances. For example, if that elected board wanted a larger budget than the TM caused to be printed in the warrant then, in that case, the board could not makes it’s case directly to you at ATM and you could not vote for the library funding you might want. This is because ATM rules generally prohibit significant increases from the printed warrant (although decreases are always permitted).
This is, and other areas of the draft may be ones that are open for review by the committee based on feedback it is receiving.

One of the things I would like to see changed is having the appointed boards remain appointed by the moderator or the BoS.

Tim, I did not mean to be negative. I apologize for a poor word choice. Constructive collaboration leads to a better outcomes, and should always be encouraged. Hopefully people will remain, or get involved and informed about this, not just on this forum, but by going to the drafting committees meetings and public hearings, well before town meeting. Give your feedback and suggestions for improvement.

I am confident this long term process was not undertaken for merely for the sake of change, nor has it been hidden from view.

Demographically Groton is similar to Southborough and was one of many towns looked at for comparison by the TGSC.
Here is a link to Groton’s preliminary 2013 Budget:

58 Bonnie Phaneuf February 6, 2012 at 6:06 PM


59 Bonnie Phaneuf February 7, 2012 at 10:07 PM

Conflict with the Salary Administration Plan and the Draft Town Manager Legislation; Section 4: Town Manager Powers and Duties (i) With the assistance and guidance of the Personnel Board, as long as it shall exist in the Town, the Town Manager shall develop and administer a personnel system, including but not lmited to, determination of rates of pay, the development and implementation of an ongoing training propram, evaluation processes, personnel and hiring policies,practices, and regulations for Town employees.

“The Southborough Personnel Board is an independent town board, appointed by the Town Moderator, charged with the administration of the Salary Administration Plan or SAP (a separate article in the town’s by-laws). The board’s roles and responsibilities include setting policies, procedures and wage schedules for town employees who are not otherwise covered by a union or employment contract or who work part-time” from the ANNUAL REPORT of the Town of Southborough.
Full-Time Salary Graded Positions;
Staff Librarian (hourly),Assistant Director, Council on Aging,Outreach Corrdinator, Assistant Director, Youth&Family Services, Children’s Librarian, Maintenance Supervisor, Staff Engineer, Director, Council on Aging,Director of Recretion Commission, Assistant Town Administrator, Building Inspector, Facilities, Manager,Library Director, Police Lieutenant, Principal Assessor, Public Health Director, Town Accountant, Town Planner, Town Engineer, Treasurer-Collector, Director, Youth & Family Services, Finance Director, and a full list of part-time hourly graded positions in just about all departments.

We have adopted the Salary Administration Plan and by adopting the SAP rules the Library/Mgr.Position employees are employees of the Town. This plan would allow the authority of the Town Manager to manager the SAP if the Town Manager feels there is no need for the Personnel Board to exist.

60 Al Hamilton February 8, 2012 at 7:52 AM


I believe that one important service that the Town Manager could provide is to be the HR director (no we do not need a separate person on the payroll to do this). This is a service that could be extended to employees under the BOS and under other boards, just as facilities takes care of the Town Clerks office and the library.

If the plan is to do away with the Personnel Board then a clear plan and timeline for transfer of authority should be established. Otherwise the entire issue is moot. If the Personnel Board does something the TM disagrees with then he/she dissolves the board and gets their way. The current proposal has the effect of transferring effective authority immediately and making the Personnel Board irrelevant.

Of course we should recognize that this part of the proposal transfers power and authority from our Legislative branch, Town Meeting, in the form of the Moderator to the Executive branch, in the form of the TM and BOS. I am ok with this but others may not be. Of course non of this applies to Schools.

Finally, we should recognize that administration of the SAP is not the same as supervising an employee. In a properly operating organization HR is a minor function, if it becomes large that is a sign of major problems. Working for the Town of Southborough is not the same thing as working for the TM or BOS. Independent boards can (and for now should) continue to have the responsibility for managing the supervisors of the departments under their control. They would have the responsibility for setting goals and assessing performance in a performance reviews. The TM’s role would be largely in technical support of this activity.

61 John Boiardi February 8, 2012 at 8:36 AM

Mr Martel ,

Thank you. You made your point.
I am still for a TM as long as the proposed charter gives the BOS and ATM strong oversight of personnel and budgetary matters to counter some of the concerns posted on the blog.

62 Bonnie Phaneuf February 11, 2012 at 8:54 PM

Monday, February 13, 2012 6:30PM Location Cordaville Hall,Room A
on the Town of Southborough official website.

Agenda items for the evening:
1. Review and approve minutes from February 6th meeting
2. Review language and intent suggestions from the Library Board of Trustees
3. Review addenda to the Draft Legislation containing the comments and edits of all those who sent in written comment
4.Comment from audience members (last 10 Minutes only)

Current Draft legislation and notes (compliled by Mike Ward and Marnie Holihan)
Preliminary Committee Report

Your input is necessary for a successful outcome and credit should be given to the Committee Members for taking on this task.

63 Bonnie Phaneuf February 13, 2012 at 10:25 AM

As a follow-up; Draft Legislation
Section 9 General Provisions
(a) In accordance with any applicabel laws, bylaws, votes of the Town, or inter-local agreements, the following offices, positions, boards, and committees shall be elected under this Act.
1. Board of Selectmen-Five members for terms of three years.
2. Town Moderator-One person for a term of one year.
3. Southborough School Committee-Five members for terms of thre years.
4. Northborough/Southborough Regional School District Committee-As provided by the School District Agreement.
5. Assabet Valley Regional Vocational School District Committee- As provided by the School District Agreement.
6. Board of Library Trustees-Six members for terms of three years.
7. Board of Health- Three members for terms of three years.
8. Planning Board-Five members for terms of five years.
9. ADVISORY COMMITTEE- Nine members for terms of five years.

“A good committee member on ANY BOARD can make a real and important difference in the town’s life; just going through the motions by rote and habit is no longer serving his or her own- or the town’s best interest.When committee members find themselves dismissing people or arguments because they have “heard it all before,” when enthusiasm gives way to impatience or inattention and/or when absences become increasingly frequent, it is probably time to move on.”

From a handbook on Town Finance and Government.

64 Marnie Hoolahan February 13, 2012 at 10:44 AM

I was under the impression that Advisory Board was appointed by the Moderator not elected. In section 9 under General Provisions, the committee chose to list those elected Boards that will remain elected after passage of the Special Legislation. Is it the intent of your public comment that you would like the Advisory Board to be elected? Your clarification would be helpful.

I so like the paragraph that you have copied and pasted from the Town Finance Handbook. Language was incorporated in Section 9 General Provisions that encouraged professional and ethical behavior but did not have this type of language contained.

65 Bonnie Phaneuf February 13, 2012 at 12:03 PM

YES, I would like for the Advisory Board to be elected, I have stated that from the start..
The paragraph ; I added these two words ANY BOARD, The handbook talked about a number of government issues and in this paragraph noted only one an I felt it applied to all boards and committees.
Thank you for asking for clarification.

66 Al Hamilton February 13, 2012 at 1:53 PM

I think a case can be made for the election of Advisory. However, I am not sure that this is the right forum this discussion. I am far more interested in putting something on the floor of ATM that will pass and mixing in the Advisory issues is just muddying the waters.

The drafting committee, in my opinion would be far better off with a narrow focus. Attempting to restructure large parts of our government and consolidate power under the BOS and TM will only consolidate opposition to the proposal.

Finally, the matter of whether Advisory should be elected or appointed is a matter that Town Meeting can decide for itself. No need to ask the legislatures permission. The same goes for some future consolidation of the current independent boards.

67 Bonnie Phaneuf March 1, 2012 at 10:20 PM

The Southborough Drafting Committee for Town Manager Legislation ,POSTED
their final draft [2-28-2012] on,

68 Al Hamilton March 2, 2012 at 12:53 PM


Thank you. I think this document still needs work. In particular I recommend that Section 8 which deals with the Advisory Committee be deleted in its entirety for the following reasons:

1. It is beyond the mandate of the committee. Advisory is a legislative committee and the Drafting Committee was tasked with restructuring the executive.
2. It represents a serious attempt to limit the authority of the Advisory Committee to independently look into town affairs. It removes its power to investigate the management of town operations which in effect makes Advisory useless and it permits the TM to withhold information from Advisory.
3. It invests in Advisory less authority to investigate and have access to town records than any citizen has if they make a public records request.

In effect any limitation of the independent authority of Advisory to investigate town affairs is a limitation on Town Meeting to have the information it needs to make an informed decision.

Advisory is not a popular committee. It should not be. It’s job is to ask hard questions and expect answers. This section smacks of payback for years of asking tough questions and effectively neuters Advisory. If that is the way we want to go then perhaps it would be better to eliminate the Advisory Committee all together rather than pretend we are serious about their doing their jobs.

If this language stays then I regret that I will vote no.

69 Marnie Hoolahan March 3, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Thank you for your comments.

This section cannot be deleted.
For Mysouthborough readers, the current advisory bylaw ( Chapter 9:III) found in our Town Code can be found at:

We have had to address section 9-13, 9-14 and 9-15 as it is in direct conflict with a Town Manager financial responsibility. The draft is in Aldo Cipriano’s hands now and is subject to change.

The intent of the Committee, which we may or may not have conveyed in Section 8 is that as per Town Manager Legislation, Town Meeting drives approval of spending, the Town Manager is to drive the budget process and the overall budget for the Town, the advisory Committee provides comment and advice on the numbers, either overall or individually as they see fit but does not run the budget process. We have modified language to direct the Advisory’s process through a single point of contact but we have not eliminated the ability for the Advisory Committee to investigate departments and provide a checks and balances to the process being conducted.

I encourage readers of to read the Advisory Committee by-law and our draft. The Drafting Committee strongly believes that the current by-law cannot remain as written. Should a Town Manager be approved by our residents on April 9, 2012, we are obligated to provide clear roles and responsibilities for that new hire and clear expectations for our BoS, Advisory Committee and Town residents to hold a Town Manager accountable.

70 Al Hamilton March 4, 2012 at 9:12 AM


I am afraid that I have to disagree. I believe that this wording guts the authority of Advisory.

This is the current wording of Section 9-13-D:

The Advisory Committee shall have authority at any time to investigate the books, accounts and management of any department of the Town, and the books and accounts of all departments and officers of the Town shall be open to inspection of the Committee and of any person employed by it.

This is the wording that proposes to replace it:

In conjunction with its specified duties, the Advisory Committee shall have the authority to examine the books and accounts of any department of the Town by submitting a written request to the Town Manager, and the books and accounts of all departments of the Town shall be open to review of the Committee in such form as the Town Manager shall determine.

1. Note that the authority to investigate management practices has been removed. It is impossible to do an effective review of a budget or other warrant article unless you also review the management structure and practices that drive the spending and other proposals. Without the writ to review management practices there can be no effective review of a warrant article. So why bother having an Advisory Committee.

2. Secondly it permits the Town Manager to control the flow of information to the Advisory which is completely unacceptable. The language greatly reduces the Advisory committees right to access town information. There have been tensions in the past on this subject particularly with respect to legal bills. The strong language in the current by law meant that Advisory was able to prevail. Under the new language they would not. Finally this gives the Advisory committee less authority to extract information from our Govt than any citizen has under the Mass Public Records laws and as such is silly.

In addition this case Mr Cipriano must be regarded as an advocate for his supervisor the Board of Selectmen. There is, and should be, a natural tension between the legislative branch (Advisory) and the executive (BOS). No shame in that but Mr. Cipriano represents the BOS and it is natural that the BOS would want to restrain an overly inquisitive legislative committee. Nothing nefarious in this but that is human nature. Mr. Cipriano cannot advocate for the BOS/Town Manager and Advisory at the same time in this affair.

Finally, the Drafting committee in my opinion, has exceeded its mandate which was related to the structure of the executive. Nothing in its charge suggests that it was to restrict the legislative prerogatives which this section does.

If this section stays I am voting no. Better the flawed system we have than one that transfers power from Town Meeting to an unelected Town Manager.

71 Al Hamilton March 4, 2012 at 9:51 AM


While I appreciate the substantial time and effort the drafting committee has put into this project I fear that it trying to do too much. I believe that a proposal that would pass Town Meeting would do the following

1. Create a Town Manager that would report to the BOS
2. The TM would only has such powers and authorities as the document describes which would be limited to those powers and authorities that currently reside in the BOS. Nothing more.
3. Make it clear that future reorganizations that might occur or changes in the budget or other processes can be authorized by majority vote of Town Meeting.

In effect only go to the State for the minimal authority we need and then we can go back to governing ourselves as we have for 285 years.

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