MWDN: Southborough selectmen support expanding board to five members

by susan on March 15, 2013

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Tuesday night to lend their support to an article at Town Meeting next month that would increase the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members. While they agreed they wanted to give voters a chance to weigh in on the idea, they didn’t all agree expanding the board is a good idea.

Reports the Metrowest Daily News:

Despite individual reservations of two of its members, selectmen Tuesday night unanimously voted to recommend Town Meeting expand the board from three to five members.

“I’ve flip-flopped back and forth, quite honestly, because if people aren’t running now, I’m wondering about increasing the membership by two,” Selectmen Bill Boland said before the vote.

Boland and Vice Chairman Daniel Kolenda have both questioned whether the town could garner enough qualified candidates for the position, noting that there don’t seem to be many contested elections in town anymore.

You can read more in this article by the MWDN.

{ 7 comments }

1 southsider March 15, 2013 at 5:10 PM

I agree with the two Selectmen. Additional candidates are rare. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that they’ll represent dramatically different views than the incumbents. Just a couple of more middle aged, upper middle class white men. If I go to TM, I’ll vote ‘no’.

2 ¡Ay, caramba! March 17, 2013 at 12:22 PM

Southsider,

I seem to recall a time in the not so distant past, (2 years ago ?) when we had an effective selectman who was NOT upper middle class and not a man. Although I did not agree with every decision Bonnie Phaneuf made, I certainly respected her decisions and I clearly understood her position.

The town also benefited from the service of other female selectman in the past. Why assume other female leaders will not step up and run for the office? There are effective female leaders on the local and regional school committee as well as many of the town committees.

I would like to point out to my fellow voters that two of the current selectmen, Bill Boland and Dan Kolenda just tried to vote to ABSTAIN on this vote. (You can read the details in the Villager.) I don’t understand how an elected official can try to dodge this issue. Take position, flip a coin, VOTE!

If they cannot/will not take a position on a straightforward issue like this, ¡Ay, caramba!

3 Al Hamilton March 16, 2013 at 9:14 AM

I chair the committee that is sponsoring this article. I believe it is good for the Town of Southborough for a number reasons.

It will increase the diversity of opinion. 2 new voices will improve the chances that “outside the box” thinking is at least on the table. It will increase the odds that someone other than us “old white guys” will run and be elected.

It will reduce the workload on each Selectman. (more on this later)

It will permit 2 selectmen to have a conversation or ask a question outside the confines of a public meeting. Today a new selectman cannot call the chair and ask a simple procedural question as it is a violation of the open meeting law.

The big worry is “Will qualified candidates run? Will we have contested elections.” It is a legitimate question. I believe that they will for the following reasons:

1. The job is becoming less burdensome – For decades the BOS has been the direct supervisor of all the the department heads under its control. The BOS has recently voted to delegate this responsibility to the Town Admin. This has lifted much of the day to day operational burden from the BOS. In the past the substantial time committment to mundane minutia has been a substantial barrier to service. This delegation and board expansion will mean that more qualified people will make themselves available.

2. The job will be more interesting – We have lots of big issues we need to begin facing. From Fire and Police Stations, to unfunded liabilities, to labor relations, to decaying buildings to which services are a priority to electronic government to transparency. Lifting much of the day to day burden from the BOS will permit the board to focus on longer range policies and priorities.

3. There is a pool of good potential candidates – I could easily name 12-15 people would be very well qualified to be a Selectman. (I might not vote for all of them but they would be qualified). If we make the job manageable and interesting I believe they will run.

Finally there is the vague objection that we will get the “wrong sort of person” on the board who might not be collegial or would ask embarrassing questions or would embarrass us. I personally do not credit this argument with any weight but some do and the answer is that we have had many contested elections in the past. It is rare for the losing candidate not to get at least 100 votes. If 100 people in town are willing to vote for someone then that makes them the “right sort of person” in my book.

4 Resident March 18, 2013 at 10:05 AM

I agree with you Al except for your last paragraph. Why would increasing the Board to 5 result in less collegial or less qualified candidates? Whoever is making this claim doesn’t understand the process.

Also, who’s to say we don’t have the “wong sort of person” on the board right now? I believe that the board has been one-dimensional for long enough and that increasing it to 5 members could start to add variety of thought and diversity.

5 Al Hamilton March 18, 2013 at 3:24 PM

Resident

To be clear I do not support the “right sort of person” argument. I included it because I have heard it made.

6 Resident March 19, 2013 at 8:23 AM

That was my understanding. Sorry if my post was unclear.

7 John Butler March 18, 2013 at 2:57 PM

I agree with all of Al’s points. I am hopeful that now that the job of Selectman is freed of the day to day management burden, and the Board has become a real Board, rather than a 3-person CEO, more people will be willing to run for this office.

There is another reason for increasing the number of Selectmen. Even if we pass the proposed Town Administrator Bylaw at Town Meeting, which we should do, the ability to preempt the Town Administrator remains with the Board of Selectmen. This power should only be used in unusual conditions. A five person board is less likely, in my opinion, to unwisely meddle in day-to-day operations. It is more likely to see itself as providing guidance and policy, developing traditions that support this role. This is what we need now.

Previous post:

Next post: