Open discussion thread: Ask questions, share opinions

by susan on October 25, 2011

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Above: The squirrels have been going nutty lately

Time for another open thread. For those of you new to the blog, the open discussion thread is your place to ask questions, sound off on town issues, or share information with other readers. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Ask questions about programs in town or the town itself
  • Post a note about things that you’re selling or giving away, or things that you want
  • Share notices about upcoming events (Southborough or otherwise)
  • Register your thoughts on town issues or news stories
  • Point out interesting or helpful resources

You can add comments to the thread throughout the week. Check back often to see new comments. (If you read the blog via email or RSS, you might want to check the site from time to time for new comments.)

To view past open discussion threads, click here.

1 Minimom October 25, 2011 at 2:26 PM

What ever happened to the guy from Sudbury who showed an interest in buying the Garfield house and renovating it?

2 John Rooney October 29, 2011 at 9:13 AM

I write as an individual and not as an envoy of the Board of Selectmen.

The Town Governance Committee has been assiduously working to execute its directive from Town Meeting. As we slowly retreat into our homes to deal with the unpredictable New England winter, I implore all residents to carve out time to gain an understanding of the importance and consequences of the task at hand so that informed decisions result.

Southborough has long since reached that point where effective management is beyond the reach of part-time and volunteer boards and committees. We ask people to step forward and provide vision, direction and leadership in addressing the needs and services we expect our town to provide. The town relies on people who are willing to stand at the transfer station to shake hands to get elected. Those people may or may not have any experience when they are elected, and thus you could have people with no qualification whatsoever in charge of a $45 million corporation. That would be repugnant in the outside world. We grant them a meager stipend and have high expectations. They generously give many hours to meetings with various community groups, hold many public meetings to gauge public sentiment, and are responsible for many significant decisions that have a long-range effect on residents and taxpayers.

It has been said that the only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery. Times have changed. In a progressive town such as ours, change is a constant and inevitable. One only has to read Donna McDaniel’s recent book “Southborough Memories” to grasp the speed and extent of change. (If you have not secured a copy of this book, I suggest you do so as it is not written with a utilitarian purpose but rather reflects an exemplary example of a historian’s primary allegiance to historical objective truth.)

The current form of town governance, which includes open town meeting and selectmen, was implemented in the colonial days. This form of government involves the popular election of three volunteers to become selectmen. In colonial days, these volunteers were men who were typically self-employed and whose work was done within the borders of the town. Their responsibilities included the day-to-day management of all aspects of colonial town governance. The town was a close-knit community consisting of people who were truly neighbors. Those were the “good ole days” where everyone knew your name and neighbor cared about neighbor.

Today, the concerns of town governance are much larger and more complicated. The demands on the selectmen are no longer narrowly focused on the colonial concerns within the town. There are numerous departments, committees and personnel to oversee. Taxes collected are insufficient to cover costs associated with running the town. Federal and state aid continues to shirk while residential pressure demands increased municipal services. With all of these changes and complications in town governance, we exist in a changed community in a modern day that is trying to maintain a colonial style of government that is no longer able to meet the needs of the community. I hear many people pining for the good ole days, but they are long gone. Free time is a coveted commodity held closely and parsed out sparingly.

It is because of these changed times and the continuously increasing demands on local town government that a change in the form of government in Southborough is needed. A full-time professional employed in a central management position to run the day-to-day business of the town as directed by the selectmen is long overdue.

An illustrative example of the immediate and essential need for the creation of a town manager is palpable when our tortured budget process is examined. The budgeting issues facing the town do not just include a lack of funds; they also involve a lack of time and knowledge required for proper budget planning. There is a lack of inside knowledge by any one individual or board of each department’s workings. In addition, there is a lack of communication amongst and between the various departments which makes it nearly impossible to properly plan the needs of the town overall.

A town manager would be a salaried employee who reports directly to the Board of Selectmen, which is sort of analogous to a corporation that has shareholders. A town manager could take an immediate and lead role in providing the type of financial coordination and analysis needed by town policy-makers to make informed decisions. In the context of the town’s limited revenues and ongoing cost pressures, there is a heightened need to operate in a forward looking and cost-effective manner. The town manager could prepare a balanced budget proposal, for all town departments, and present it to policymakers. The town manager could provide updated revenue and budgetary information as it becomes available, provide it to Advisory so they could review proposals and focus on decisions and planning that will impact future budgets. Advisory would continue to make budget recommendations to town meeting. The town manager could oversee operations to ensure all services are provided in a coordinated manner and are as cost effective as possible. The town manager, with input from selectmen and Advisory, could prepare a five year forecast and direct the capital planning process. Such a multi-year forecast would be useful in revealing budget problems and formulating long-range plans such as capital funding decisions.

Presently, we myopically prepare annual budgets without essential future forecast and impact. We reduce budgets and increase other budgets based upon the art of advocacy and self-interest and not as a result of comprehensive departmental review. We fund operational budgets with nonrecurring revenue without analysis of future impact. The budget decisions we make today have tremendous impact on the future of the town. The residents of the town deserve to have these decisions professionally made with a full understanding of both current and future impact.

It is because of my commitment to the future that I sincerely believe our town government must be professionally managed. Town government must emphasize customer service, must provide a coordinated delivery of municipal services, must be fiscally responsible, accessible to all citizens, foster citizen participation, and, perhaps most importantly, be proactive instead of reactive.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this interminable message.

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