Town Meeting on Tuesday endorsed a citizen-backed plan that will move the town further down the path of restructuring its government.
Voters approved the creation of a committee that will draft language for a new Town Manager form of government. The government structure includes creating a Town Manager position, and increasing the Board of Selectmen from three members to five.
Other changes as detailed in the Town Governance study completed in 2007 (available here on the town website) will also be looked at.
The Town Meeting article had the backing of a number of prominent residents, including all the members of the Board of Selectmen, a majority of Advisory Committee members, and most of the members of the Town Government Study Committee, along with several former selectmen and former Town Administrator Janice Conlin.
But not all Town Meeting members were sold on the idea. Former Selectwoman Donna McDaniel said she was “skeptical” of the plan, particularly the recommendation to increase the size of the Board of Selectmen.
“I’m not sure five selectmen is going to reduce the amount of work,” she said. “Sometimes the more people there are, the more you have to talk about it.”
McDaniel also expressed concern about finding enough qualified candidates to run for seats on the expanded board.
Selectman John Rooney said a Town Manager structure of government would remove many of the day-to-day responsibilities from the board — things like assessing fines for those who use the Transfer Station without a sticker — and instead let them focus on strategic planning.
“I think you want your Board of Selectmen to be setting priorities and long-term objectives,” Rooney said. “Right now we don’t have anyone doing that.”
Rooney also said expanding the Board of Selectmen would increase diversity.
Board of Health Chairman Louis Fazen expressed concern that under a Town Manager form of government, some elected boards could become appointed boards. “I want to alert the town to what can happen when you go too far in streamlining government,” he said.
In the end, Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to create the drafting committee and allocate $10K to cover legal and professional services costs.
Advisory Committee member John Butler, who initiated the article, said the drafting committee will present their results at Town Meeting next year. Voters would have to approve any changes before restructuring took place, so no doubt there will be lots of discussion about this in the future. Stay tuned.