Town manager legislation: Let’s talk

by susan on April 4, 2012

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Above: Residents learn about the proposed town manager legislation at a public forum last month

Our town is lucky to have a collection of very smart people who have done their homework and know exactly how they feel about the town manager proposal to be voted on at Town Meeting next week. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

I don’t normally discuss how I vote on this blog, but I will tell you I haven’t made up my mind on this one yet. I suspect many of you fall into the same camp.

(For those of you just coming up to speed, I’m talking here about the proposal to hire a so-called strong town manager who would have operational control over budgets and day-to-day activities. The proposal also includes increasing the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to five.)

Part of it depends on what happens on the floor of Town Meeting on Monday. Town Moderator David Coombs said last night he expects a number of amendments to the article, and things could get messy. The Library Board of Trustees has already said it will propose a wording change to the legislation. The drafting committee itself may (or may not) do the same. Drafting committee member Leo Bartolini said as of last night he’s still considering whether to make a motion to split the article into two separate ones.

Clearly, it’s complicated.

For those of you still undecided, let’s see if we can get some of the quesitons and answers out in advance of Town Meeting with the hope it will educate us all.

The most common questions I’ve heard from residents about the proposed legislation are:

  • What’s so broken about our government that we need to make this change?
  • Would the town manager have too much power over departments and budgets?
  • If we expand the Board of Selectmen to five members, will we even get enough people to run?
  • Why should we make so many changes all at once?

Do your big questions fall into that list? Do you have others? I invite you to share your questions in the comments below. And if you have opinions on the questions asked by others (or any of the ones I posed above) please jump in.

For those of you wanting to do some homework, start by reading the proposed legislation, which you’ll find beginning on page 2 of the annual town warrant (page 12 of the PDF version). You may also want to take a look at this post for some good discussion.

1 Al Hamilton April 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM

The most recent draft as proposed by the Advisory Committee unfortunately does not protect Town Meetings right to decide for itself matters that it currently can decide.

The critical wording that permitted the proposed special legislation to to be modified by majority vote of Town Meeting in the future if the changes were not in conflict with state law was dropped.

Today 80% of what is included in this special legislation could be decided either by the BOS or Town Meeting without the approval of the State. If this passes we will lose this important power to decide these matters for our selves. In its present form this proposal should be defeated as an assault on the rights and prerogatives of Town Meeting.

There are mechanisms that could resolve this issue. Splitting the article in two, Special Legislation for only the matters that require state approval and a Town By Law that would take effect upon the adoption of the special legislation would do the trick and be worthy of support.

I am quite disappointed that the Advisory Committee, as a sub committee of Town Meeting, did not see fit to more vigorously defend the dignity and prerogatives of Town Meeting.

2 Tim Martel April 4, 2012 at 11:46 AM

To be honest, Al, I feel I got a similar response when I asked this same question at the library discussion last month. I do not feel this critical issue is being taken seriously, and I agree that the legislation should be split.

3 SB Resident April 4, 2012 at 11:15 AM

I’ve read most of the comments on this blog regarding this issue and still haven’t heard one good arguement for the answer to your question 1. Thats not to say you can’t improve something that works, but in this case, that’s improvements aren’t obvious.

Really, the way I see it is that the current selectman want to continue to have their power, but want to do less work. Fair enough, they are volunteers, but should the tax payers front the bill to shift the work from volunteers to a paid employee? especially when the volunteers are trying to cut every other dollar?

However, its not that much money, but its doubtful anything noticable will change for better or worse. Both sides are making this out to be a bigger issue than it is.

Ultimately, change does not equal progress, in this case, a clear agent for change is necessary and there just isn’t one. Unless that agent presents itself I’ll be a no vote. See ya’ll at town meeting!

4 Al Hamilton April 4, 2012 at 4:17 PM

SB Resident

“should the tax payers front the bill to shift the work from volunteers to a paid employee?”

A few years ago we decided to professionalize our Fire Dept. This was recognition of the fact that it was harder and harder to deliver the required services with a volunteer department. Fewer people worked in town and the skill set required of a modern EMT/Firefighter was becoming more and more sophisticated. So we moved from volunteers to a professional staff and the taxpayers got the bill. I don’t think that the situation with the Selectmen is any different. The job has grown over the decades and requires more and more of their time. If we want a well managed town, we need to pay for the services of a full time manager.

We can do this by expanding the role of the TA or we can bring in a TM but we need to move from requiring the Selectmen to be involved in the day to day management of the town if we want sane person to serve in that capacity.

5 John Butler April 5, 2012 at 10:14 AM

On Tuesday night the Town Manager Drafting Committee and Advisory Committee met to review final changes to the draft. Both Committees voted to agree on a set of small, but not insignificant, changes to the draft printed in the warrant. In addition, the Drafting Committee had previously accepted a change proposed by the Library Trustees. All of these changes are now incorporated in a final version that can be found here: .

On the question of whether we should approve this or not, I believe we should. With regard to the need, Al Hamilton’s comparison to the Fire Department is good. Currently our Board of Selectmen need to review and approve the most minute details of every Town action. As volunteers, they are overwhelmed with detail. Everyone who is close to the situation sees the problem clearly and realizes it is time to fix it. That is why the Town Government Study Committee recommended this, why the creation of the Drafting Committee had the unanimous support of Selectmen and Advisory last year when Town Meeting voted to create it. This is not a high cost change. Estimates are that we will pay $15-20,000 more for a Town Manager than we pay today for the administrator.

Of course between the concept and the specific implementation there is a huge space for people, who agree about the need, to disagree about some specifics. In January the Drafting Committee produced a draft for public review that produced something of an outcry of opposition, even among those of us who most strongly supported the idea. But, the Drafting Committee, which has worked extremely hard, listened, and changed that draft very significantly.

Last week I was hoping that we would be able to add to this some language that would have addressed the concern that Al Hamilton has about it, that it can only be changed by repeating the process of going to the legislature, probably not by mere Bylaw change at Town Meeting. Town Counsel said this week that that language was invalid and should be removed. Reluctantly for many of us, it was removed this week. I think the Draft still merits our support overall.

I dare say that every person who takes the trouble to read this document will have something that they would prefer were different. I do. But what I might want, someone else may not. That will always be true no matter how long we work on it. To fix our glaring problem, we each need to accept that we can’t get exactly what each of us wants, but that we can achieve something good for the greater good. We are at that point. In that spirit, I think we should support this enthusiastically.

6 Janet Maney April 5, 2012 at 12:48 PM

After working on the Draft Legislation Committee all year, I won’t be able to attend Town Meeting to support it (an overwhelming personal issue calls), so I am “voting” here with my comments.
I understand the caution many feel toward making the changes included in this legislation. I would not have supported some of these changes without knowing much more of the town workings than I knew at the beginning of this process, and I’ve been a pretty active member of this community for more than 25 years. So let me tell you (briefly) what we did.
We interviewed every department head in town and invited them to come to our open meetings. We held meetings for all boards and committees in town to give us their feedback. Plus, we had many regular attendees at our meetings who were a great resource of information on the details of town operations. We had many committees that came again (and again and again – you know who you are!) to make sure we heard their viewpoints. And we had more open meetings.
We also reviewed the organizational structures of many comparable towns to determine the most reasonable and effective changes to make, and interviewed many of these towns as well.
We discussed, we argued, we revised. We did it again. And again.
You may not think these changes are necessary. As a committee, we do. I do. You probably won’t hear many of the details of past problems that we learned about that this legislation makes a step toward avoiding in the future. But listen to the people who have been Selectmen, served on committees and run the town departments. We did.
There may be changes needed in the future. We can make them as we have in the past. But it is time to move forward and vote to make these changes.
At least go to Town Meeting and consider it.

7 Ron Mattioli April 5, 2012 at 1:09 PM

Do you foresee “This is not a high cost change” becoming one when the Town Manager needs to hire support staff?

Thank you

8 John Butler April 5, 2012 at 6:08 PM

That is a good question. I don’t think so and I haven’t heard anyone say that more staff would be needed or point to areas where we are understaffed. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in order to hire a new administrator we needed to spend the extra $ anyway on that person’s salary. So that might cut the other way in the comparison. On the other hand, putting a CEO into a company it is often the case that that person wants changes in the team. This isn’t exactly a CEO swap out, but does have similarities. The risk here is that rather than letting a subordinate go and bringing in someone else, the standard way in private enterprise, there is an effort to simply add on people. We will need to be vigilant about that risk. Hopefully that will start with the Board of Selectmen, but also Town Meeting will need to be disciplined about that, if and when Advisory says “We don’t need to budget for another position.”

My experience overall however, primarily from private industry (but I’ve also participated in the Town for a long time), is that better management structures are always worth it. If you have the wrong structure, it costs you. This has been costing us, in the informal but very real sense of under performance of an organization.

9 Al Hamilton April 6, 2012 at 8:19 AM

The cost of this change is high, very high. Even if it could be demonstrated that this proposal would save us money, and no such calculation exists, the cost in terms of our loss of control over our own affairs is far to high.

If this proposal passes we will have to go on bended knee to the Legislature and Governor if we want to:

Change who appoints citizen boards

Change anything related to the budget process

Change the powers or duties of the Town Manager

Change the powers and duties of the Advisory Committee

Change anything which might tangentially touch on this documents

All of these things we can decide for ourselves today if we pass this we will lose that right and will never get it back.

Our quaint form of government is not perfect but is open, relatively transparent, stable, and honest. Compare that to the record of the bodies to which the proposal intends to transfer a portion of our sovereignty. The last 3 speakers of the house have been indited, legislators are regularly indited, entire departments are mired in corruption and patronage, and elected officials are regularly indited. Is this a body worth of receiving a portion of the public trust that Town Meeting has held for 285 years? The answer is clearly NO! We should be seeking greater authority over our own affairs not less.

I would vote for this proposal if it did not require us to surrender our ancient rights and privileges. However, it does not. As presented I will vote NO. If you care about our unique form of government and preservation of our liberties I strongly urge you to vote NO as well.

10 Al Hamilton April 5, 2012 at 3:22 PM

I asked the AG’s office if we could amend the proposed special legislation to include the provision allowing Town Meeting to Amend the parts currently under our control to confirm or not confirm Town Counsels recommendation. I sent the following email:

The Town of Southborough is preparing to vote on a request to the legislature for special legislation that would permit the expansion of our Board of Selectmen from 3 to 5 and to adopt a Town Manager form of government (currently we have a Town Administrator).

The proposed request for special legislation (current draft attached) contains a mix of matters that can only be authorized by the Legislature (eg change from 3 to 5 Selectmen) and a number of matters that could be authorized today solely by a majority vote of Town Meeting.

A number of citizens would like to support this change but preserve our right to decide local matters for ourselves without the necessity of bothering the state legislature for matters that do not require its formal approval under state law.

Could we add a section, as follows, to the document and still be in compliance with state law?

“Except with respect to Section 1 a, the terms of any provision of this act may be superseded or amended by subsequent duly enacted Bylaw of the Town in so far as such Bylaw is consistent with the provisions of other State Statutes.”

Your prompt reply is appreciated as Town Meeting takes place next Monday

Thanks you for your assistance.

I got the following response:

Dear Mr. Hamilton,

Your recent email has been forwarded to me for review and response. Your email pertains to Special Legislation for the Town of Southborough. Specifically, you ask whether it is lawful to insert certain text pertaining to the adoption of by-laws into the Special Legislation. For the following reasons, I cannot take the action you requested.

The Attorney General’s statutory authority to render formal legal opinions extends only to opinion requests by state officials, district attorneys, and branches and committees of the Legislature. This limitation on the Attorney General’s authority is spelled out in the General Laws at G.L. c. 12, §§ 3, 6, and 9. More specifically, under G.L. c. 12, § 3, the Attorney General is authorized to provide representation and other legal services to “the commonwealth and . . . state departments, officers, and commissions[.]”

In addition, pursuant to G.L. c. 40, § 32, the Municipal Law Unit reviews town by-laws and by-law amendments for consistency with state law. The Unit also reviews city and town charters and charter amendments adopted under G.L. c. 43B. We do not review other types of Town Meeting votes, including votes requesting Special Legislation.

You may wish to discuss your proposed text with Town Counsel who can advise the Town on whether such text is lawful.

Very truly yours,

Kelli E. Gunagan
Assistant Attorney General
By-law Coordinator, Municipal Law Unit
Office of the Attorney General Martha Coakley
Ten Mechanics Street, Suite 301
Worcester, MA 01608
(508) 792-7600

Another great example of our tax dollars at work.

I tried, I am voting no.

11 Betsy Rosenbloom April 5, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Mr Hamilton, at least you got the courtesy of a response! Several months ago, I sent an email to the AG’s office, in my capacity as an elected Library Trustee, asking about the interaction of the Town Manager Legislation and the state statutes which govern public libraries in Massachusetts. I never heard a word in response.

12 Marnie Hoolahan April 6, 2012 at 1:44 PM

The Drafting Committee has posted its Final Report on the Home Page of our website:

I encourage you to review, digest, review and decide. The committee believes that this is the right way to go for a variety of reasons that are documented in the report. The committee has voted 4:1 to approve this Act. It is important to note that the dissenting vote was opposed because he believed that we did not make enough transformative change and allow for the Town Manager to oversee everything, including elected boards.

I look forward to the decision that this town will make.
Ultimately, the decision to move to a Town Manager will be relatively budget neutral.
• We have a Town Administrator who has submitted a resignation, so we need to replace her anyway.
• Why not replace her and provide legislation that empowers the ability for a Town Manager to oversee personnel (except Elected Boards) and budget processes?
• Don’t we as tax payers have a right to be provided a transparent set of numbers versus what we as citizens currently are provided? I could not find the Town Budget easily on line so if anyone can provide that link, please do so!
• See what Northborough’s Town Manager provides for a budget for the tax payers Meeting 2011/Budget
• Why not provide oversight with empowerment- our current town administrator has no direct authority to manage the day to day operations- decisions need to be elevated to Board of Selectmen- why can’t the person who works in the Town Hall have the authority to manage personnel and resources?

As a tax paying citizen it gives me the confidence that the Town Manager, who works everyday with most department heads, can influence the operations of town and make changes that will provide a higher level of service to the tax paying community.

Finally, I do believe that a Town Manager will alleviate the Board of Selectmen from executing on day to day operations and free them up to figure out how the Town will plan and develop for increasing our revenue base. Today, based on the insight we collected, there is little time for the Board of Selectmen to plan for the future and really tackle issues such as school overhead and building closure, Route 9 development, and offsetting residential tax base with a corporate development plan.

Given the success that many of the towns in Massachusetts have experienced with a Town Manager, I solidly believe that this is a first step and it will only improve the way our Town provides services for its citizens.

13 Al Hamilton April 6, 2012 at 3:42 PM


First, thank you for your efforts on behalf of our community. I know the committee labored hard in its efforts.

The budget can be found here

The Advisory Committee has posted the budget, and all of the materials submitted as part of the budgets on its website for several years. This information would be available on the Towns website except for the reluctance of the Selectmen in the past to provide Advisory access. I am surprised that a committee that purports to revise the budget process was unaware of this. Of course I was also surprised to find that the committee rewrote the budget process without consulting Advisory the body charged by Town By Law with conducting the budget process.

While I agree with your basic assessment of the need for a Town Manager some of the examples you cite are not germane. For example, the Board of Selectmen have no authority to make decisions about closing a school. That power is solely in the hands of the respective School Committees. Similarly, school overhead issues are not part of their mandate.

Finally I am utterly baffled as to why the committee chose to lump all of the proposed changes into a piece of special legislation when the vast majority of this proposal could be decided by Town Meeting on its own. Could you explain the logic as to why we should share authority that we currently have sole control over with the Legislature and Governor?

14 Marnie Hoolahan April 6, 2012 at 4:55 PM


If you recall the Committee was appointed specifically to meet the requirements of Article #33, passed at 2011 Town Meeting.

Article 33: To see if the Town will act to create a Committee of five members, “The Drafting Committee for Town Manager Legislation”, appointed by the Moderator, to draft special municipal legislation whose purpose shall be to enact a Town Manager form of government with an elected Board of Selectmen, consisting of five persons, this Committee to present the proposed legislation in a Warrant for consideration by the Annual Town Meeting of 2012, or such earlier Special Town Meeting as may arise; further, to raise and appropriate or transfer a sum of money for the purpose of providing legal counsel to said Committee, or do or act anything in relation thereto.

Proposed by: Petition of John B. Butler Jr. and 31 Others

Board of Selectmen Recommendation: Support

Advisory Committee Recommendation: At Town Meeting

Summary: This article creates a committee to draft language that implements the recommendation of the Town Government Study Committee. Up to $10,000 will be used for legal or other professional services to assist the committee in drafting the municipal legislation.

15 Al Hamilton April 7, 2012 at 8:51 AM


I understand the charge, I believe I am one of the other 31.

Is it your position that the only thing you were permitted to do was to draft special legislation that had to be approved by the State Legislature? I think that is a very narrow definition of “Legislation” a By Law is legislation.

I still have not seen a good reason for Town Meeting having to share authority with the State that it currently has sole control over. Can you explain the committees logic on this? Does the committee believe that Town Meeting is so broken that it requires the oversight of the State Legislature and Governor?

16 Marnie Hoolahan April 6, 2012 at 4:36 PM


We did know about the budget process and I have gone to the Advisory website frequently. I guess, I should have spelled it our for you…The point I was making about the Town budget, it is NOT readily accessible to the citizens in town- it should be provided by the town on the town website. Thank you because you helped proved my point!

I am deeply disappointed that you would suggest “I am surprised that a committee that purports to revise the budget process was unaware of this.” and “of course I was also surprised to find that the committee rewrote the budget process without consulting Advisory the body charged by Town By Law with conducting the budget process” that would imply that we did not conduct due diligence. I would appreciate an apology.

For the record, the drafting committee did invite advisory to attend the meetings. It is my understanding that you are not a current appointed member of the Advisory Committee so perhaps you were simply not aware of these invitations.

17 My 2 cents April 6, 2012 at 7:42 PM

Mr Hamilton wrote “….without consulting Advisory..” I thought Mr Butler, the first signer of the article that created this committee, also a member of Advisory for many years, is also the appointed Advisory member. That’s what it says on the web site.

Sorry to read the sniping directed towards this committee which has spent hundreds of hours on this task as VOTED by town meeting.

Thank you committee members!!!

18 Al Hamilton April 7, 2012 at 8:45 AM


You are right, my comments were snarky and I apologize for the tone.

Did the committee meet with Advisory to discuss the budget process prior to publishing the first draft of its proposal in Jan? I am under the impression that it did not but would be happy to be corrected.

19 Brian Shea April 7, 2012 at 6:06 PM

This post represents my opinion, and is not intended to state a position of the Advisory Committee, or any other of its members.

I understand and respect the points that Mr. Martel and Mr. Hamilton make with regards to “losing control over our own affairs”. The statement is also made “All of these things we can decide for ourselves today…”. However, I think these comments mistakenly leave some with the impression that Southborough Town Meeting action is independent of Beacon Hill, and that is not the case. As noted in Mr. Hamilton’s post, pursuant to G.L. c. 40, § 32, the Municipal Law Unit of the Attorney General’s Office reviews town by-laws and by-law amendments for consistency with state law. This is not limited to Southborough, it is part of the Massachusetts General Laws, and applies to all Towns.

An example of this review is as follows: in 2001, At Southborough’s annual town meeting, the Town adopted amendments under Article 44 to add a new Fire Alarm Code to the town by-laws. Following passage of the amendments at Town Meeting, the Attorney General’s Office, in a letter dated 12/17/01, issued a letter to the Town Clerk approving the amendments, with exceptions. Those exceptions disapproved two sections of the proposed by laws, and made note of other sections that were of concern. This ultimately resulted in development of another by law change, proposed as an Article at the April 2004 annual town meeting. At the 2004 meeting, the 2001 by laws were repealed.

A link to the Attorney General’s letter can be found under the first result under:

My point is that despite voting for by law changes in April of 2001, the intent of Town Meeting was not ultimately implemented until over three years later, due in large part to State review and disapproval of by law changes passed at Town Meeting. Southborough did not have control over its own affairs, and the Fire Alarm Code issue was not decided for itself with its first vote.

The larger issue at play for me that Article 4 addresses is that Southborough needs to implement a strong Town Manager form of government. We are behind comparable communities for not having it in place already. We need to move from requiring the Selectmen to be involved in the day to day management of the town, and we need to assign that day to day management to a Town Manager educated and trained to serve in that role.

I hope that all who come to Town Meeting Monday do so in support of Article 4.

20 Tim Martel April 9, 2012 at 8:51 AM

There is a big difference between:
a) lesiglation being reviewed by the Attorney General for legality.
b) the State Legislature owning a piece of our local government.

The only reason given at any point along the process for why this Legislation is a Special Act…is that the signatures collected to instead make it a Home Charter failed to pass muster. This is not sufficient reason.

The only part of the legislation that must go to the State Legislature is the Selectman increase. Why not split the article and allow Town Meeting to adopt the TM portion as a Bylaw? No compelling answer has been offered.

Though I support the content of this Legislation, I’m currently dead-set against it becaues of the means of ratification. If the article is split and the TM portion is made into a Bylaw, I believe it would receive much more support, including mine.

21 John Butler April 9, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Mr. Martel,
Your comment in your second paragraph about a Charter suggests that this process is more cumbersome, or more rigid with respect to amendment, than a Charter Commission. Neither is true. The process of amending a Home Rule Charter “relating in any way” to a Town Manager or Board of Selectmen is the same as the process to create one. It is more burdensome, requiring the election of a 9 member commission, after gathering 900+ signatures. You might want to look at Secondly the Charter route is not closed to us if we do this. It is just always slower and more trouble.

The notion that anything other than the Selectmen increase can be accomplished by Bylaw is unclear to me. The reporting of structure of the chiefs may also require legislation/charter, although I have not gotten a definitive answer to that question.

Although I too would have preferred more flexibility, one must keep some perspective here. This act is not more detailed and hence not more likely to need frequent revision than those of more than 100 other communities. The Charter process, as an alternative, is more cumbersome to revise, not less. There do not seem to be widespread reports of frustration from other communities due to difficulty of amending such laws. Furthermore, we haven’t made any changes in the last 30 years, that I can remember, that would require a more lengthy amendment process. Given that this is new, will there be some? Yes, probably. Is this likely to be an ongoing issue? Given that we haven’t acted as a Town on these topics in at least 30 years, probably not.

22 Tim Martel April 9, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Mr Butler,

I did not mean to imply that the Home Charter process would be easier – in fact, I imagine it would be more cumbersome. However, the decisions about the content of the legislation would be made by Town Meeting rather than the State Legislation (of course, subject to the normal AG review). From my perspective, the loss of control (via Special Act) significantly outweighs the greater efficiency to the process it might bring.

Of course, keeping it as a Bylaw gives us the best of both worlds. And I’ve yet to hear a single advocate of the current Legislation answer the question of why we can’t split the legislation – send the BOS increase to the State, and keep the TM portion within Town Meeting. Given this…I am leaning towards agreement with Bonnie about the need for further review and discussion.

23 Al Hamilton April 9, 2012 at 8:56 AM


I think you make my point. Yes, the state has a lot of authority to tell us what we can and cannot do. Why should we turn over some of the remaining rights we have to determine things for ourselves?

I agree with you that we should move to a Town Manager form of Govt but we must permit Town Meeting to remain in control of that government to the greatest extent practical.

24 Donna McDaniel April 7, 2012 at 9:41 PM

Regarding the accessibility of the budget to townspeople:
The warrant for the Town Meeting was available on the town website and in the printed versions of the warrant for Town Meeting as of March 23rd so I don’t understand the comments about the inaccessibility of the budget. In fact, the budget would be done earlier except for the committees who are still discussing the final wording of articles until the very last minute, namely most often the Advisory Committee and Selectmen., .
It may be that those two boards may make changes to the budget after it is printed (which they must offer as amendments at Town Meeting) but that is a situation created by the committees not intended by the formal process for providing the budget and the warrant as a whole to the voters in adance..

25 Mark Ford April 7, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Al’s points, as are so often the case, seem well grounded. Can somebody tell me why we’d want to limit our town’s autonomy, when it seems so easy to do otherwise?

26 John Butler April 8, 2012 at 9:33 AM

“so easy” is the crux of it. When Al Hamilton raised this issue at a meeting a few weeks ago, I agreed with him and drafted an amendment that would have enabled Town Meeting, via Bylaw, to modify provisions that did not require action by the State legislature. Town Counsel has said we can’t do that.

Al Hamilton considers the issue important enough to defeat this at Town Meeting, then attempt later to divide it into parts requiring and not requiring State legislative action. I think this issue does not justify such delay and such risk of inaction.

My reason for believing this issue to be not so large as to justify defeating the current proposal is as follows. The effect of enacting this is that some later changes we might want to make are delayed by as much as a year, while the legislature acts and a ballot box vote occurs at the Town. (As Brian Shea points out, it is not as though the State doesn’t already have to approve any Bylaw change.)

In the 30 years that I have served the Town in various capacities I cannot think of a single instance in which Town Meeting has approved a Bylaw change that, if we pass this, would have been changed to a legislative Act, and hence would have been subject to the new delay. Given that such actions are so infrequent in our actual history, I don’t see much risk. I note also that this Act, as drafted, is not more detailed or specific than that of many other Towns, hence not more likely to need amendment. Yet, they are operating seemingly without complaint about this process. Probably they only want to change these laws every few decades, and so the process seems, in practice, not too burdensome to them. This is what I would forecast for us, and why I support this now.

On the other hand if we delay now we will have far greater uncertainty as we attempt to replace the retiring Jean Kitchen, our Town Administrator. Delay has costs.

Lastly, if we delay a year and attempt to partition this Act as Al Hamilton might suggest, there will be other issues that others will have with that new draft. We should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, or we will never achieve the good. Compromise is always necessary to make progress in our affairs. Given that the actual problem has not occurred in at least 30 years, and many other Towns have been down this exact path with apparent success, I judge that this should not allow this to be an impediment to action.

27 Tim Martel April 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM

The current form of government has existed in Southborough for almost 300 years. A 1 year delay is not going to sink the boat.

Let’s do this the right way, the first time. Rather than rushing something through just to get it done faster, and then have to fix it down the road.

28 Al Hamilton April 9, 2012 at 9:02 AM


I agree with you that “better is the enemy of good enough”. Like you I believe we should move to a Town Manager form of government. Like you there are things in this draft, other than the big issue of loss of Town Meetings authority, that I am not crazy about but would support.

Unfortunately where you and I disagree is that I do not think the current proposal is “good enough”. The requirement that in the future we share the right to govern ourselves with the State Legislature and Governor keeps this proposal underwater for me.

29 southsider April 9, 2012 at 12:06 PM

Interesting that no one has commented on the proposed need for at least 5 people to run for BOS. Considering the lack of volunteers for elected office today, I wonder which way the “better” vs ” good enough” needle would point if we needed additional people to run for that office?? How embarassing if only 3 or 4 stepped up!

My vote: too many questions and objections at this time. NO.

30 Tim Martel April 9, 2012 at 12:36 PM

This was brought up during the discussion hosted by the library trustees. There is great concern that not enough people will run…or that the quality of the candidates will deteriorate. If memory serves, a stat was brought up that (over the last decade) about 50% of the BOS elections have been uncontested. That number will only go up with a BOS increase from 3 to 5.

The other concern brought up is that law forbids a BOS quorom to meet privately – in today’s world, that means none of them can meet. In a BOS-5 world, 2 of them can meet privately, which brings up the ugly spectre of collusion, etc. – no fingers being pointed at any current BOS, but this legislation is intended to last for a long time.

Against this was brought the benefits of specialization (i.e. one BOS member focusing on schools, another on public safety, etc.), and the ability to focus upon more strategic items (i.e. getting the nontaxable entities like Fay to pay their fair share for the services consumed). Also added was the benefit of greater perspectives.

I’ve crunched the numbers (as of 2010).
— Southborough has ~9700 population, which is projected to decline.
— For the 172 MA towns under 10k population, 132 have 3 selectmen and 40 have 5 selectmen.
— For the 224 MA towns under 15k population, 147 have 3 selection and 75 have 5 selectmen.

Do the numbers support more selectmen?

31 Al Hamilton April 9, 2012 at 12:42 PM

If it comes to a vote I will vote no on this proposal as it stands. However, I believe the right thing is to indefinitely postpone this article.

The drafting committee has worked hard and they have moved the ball much closer to the end zone than ever before. We are all in their debt regardless of how we feel about the specific proposal.

With the modest revisions proposed by Tim Martel, others and myself I think the proposal is good enough. A slightly revised proposal can be be brought before a future Town Meeting in any number of ways:

At any Town Meeting By being Sponsored by an committee such as Advisory or the Selectmen.

At the Annual Town Meeting with the signatures of 10 voters.

At a special town meeting with the signature of a larger number (I am unsure of the number but I think it is 200) of signatures.

Indefinite Postponement does not mean killing the hard work of the committee but rather getting the time and space to carefully split the legislation into 2 parts. Special Legislation for the things the state must approve and a By Law that we control to define the structure of our government once the Special Legislation takes effect.

32 Mark Ford April 9, 2012 at 6:02 PM

I’m tending towards postponement, but am really impressed with the work of the committee, and the arguments both for and against. It’s actually this very discussion that makes me wonder why I’d want to introduce additional legislative encumbrance to our community…

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