Southborough Library to host public forum on town manager proposal

You’ve no doubt heard about the proposal to move to a town manager form of government. It’s an important question voters at Town Meeting in April will debate. We’ve talked about it on the blog here before, but if you’re anything like me, you still have plenty of questions.

A final version of the proposed legislation was recently posted on the drafting committee’s website, and I encourage you all to read it. Then collect up your questions and plan on attending a public forum at the Southborough Library on March 22. Here are the details.

The Southborough Library will be hosting a public forum on Thursday, March 22, 7 p.m, on a Town Meeting warrant article that, if approved, would create a Town Manager form of government in Southborough and expand the Board of Selectmen from three to five members.

In attendance will be members of the Drafting Committee for Town Manager Legislation, which has been crafting the proposal since last summer.

“We encourage all voters to come out and ask questions so they can make an informed decision at our April 9 Town Meeting,” said Jane Smith, chair of the Library Board of Trustees.

Under the proposed legislation, a Town Manager appointed by the Board of Selectmen would have broad powers over the personnel and budgets of most town departments, with the exception of the School Department. “Regardless of which side you are on, this proposal represents a significant change for Southborough, and we want to present the public with a neutral forum where they can ask questions and listen to answers,” Smith explained.

If approved at April Town Meeting, the special legislation would move to the state Legislature for approval and then back to the town for approval at an election.

The public forum will take place upstairs in the Library, from 7 to 9 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

This event will be taped and shown on Southborough Access TV. Check for the schedule.

For more information, contact the Jane Smith, chair of Library Trustees at 508.485.6033.

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Tim Martel
10 years ago

I *think* the 2/28 posted version is “nearly final”, with a small number of important edits from last night’s meeting to be included.

Marnie Hoolahan
10 years ago

I have just uploaded the version that went to the printer’s as the warrant article. It is important to note that this was approved at our meeting by 4 of the 5 committee members. The 5th committee member objects to the final act as proposed.

There were some final amendments made:
(1) Section 4b2a – we added a sentence to give purpose to the review of personnel decisions by the town manager of elected board personnel actions.
(2) Section 4b2b – We realized that we had added a sentence to the Police Chiefs section that was duplicated from the Fire Chiefs MGL language that should not be there and it was deleted. The language of the three sections is now in line with what is current in the Statutes for these positions.
(3) Section 10c – We found some timing problems with the way we worded the Town Clerk section and so we re-worded that section to avoid conflicts.
(4) Section 10h – We took a stab at re-wording the ballot question section to include the language around the potential November 6th ballot placement.
we understand that after review by legislative counsel this could change at TM (amendment to be brought forward by Town Counsel).

Thank you to all the committee members and for our faithful following who helped educate us along the and attended most if not all of our sessions! We hope that citizen’s of our town attend this meeting hosted by the library as well as attend Town Meeting to cast a vote on this important legislation.

10 years ago

I would like to thank the committee for their dedication and efforts. I have read through the warrant and realize there really isn’t much difference than what we have in place now so why would we want to pay a large salary for a TM when we can just rewrite the few changes in the job descrip for an administrator. Also, elected boards still hold power of their budgets which I feel is a mistake. Boards should be policy only and trust/support what their Dept Head puts forth, that includes the school committee (I know that will never happen). I have decided to vote against this warrant.

I'm just sayin'....
10 years ago
Reply to  sboro87

I agree…why should we be spending more money on adminstration when we are asking all departments to make cuts or to hold the line on their budgets? And how are we going to fill a 5 person board, when we have unopposed Selectmen contests now to fill the 3 person board? I do not think this is the time to be contemplaing a move to a Town Manager type of government.

Tim Martel
10 years ago
Reply to  sboro87

The town manager role is truly a management position now, as opposed to administrative. This draft is very different from the one provided back in January, and significantly incorporates the feedback from the elected boards and other voters.

One of major points of this legislation is to enable the Board of Selectman to be significantly removed from the day-to-operations of the town, so that they can focus on policy (strategic vs. tactical situations).

Further, the town manager is now the focal point for managing and streamlining the budget process, enabling Advisory to narrowly focus upon their specific mandate, and hopefully bringing additional clarity to what is now a confusing process. It is expected that the Town Manager will facilitate their requests for information in an expeditious manner.

Another benefit is that the Town will have a single point of contact with the Schools, which I believe is something Dr. Gobron has advocated in the past. This legislation in no way impacts the schools, other than improving communications.

There are other benefits, such as reducing risks posed to the Town: the TM will have an HR role and be involved in (but not control) the hiring/firing of Town employees; the TM will provide oversight to critical capital projects in our Town as well as being the primary point of interaction with vendors, the TM will coordinate any legal defense, etc.

It is my belief that the skills and experience that a Town Manager brings to this position justify the greater compensation – just as you would expect to see in the private sector.

I understand the opposing committee member’s decision; however, that single member’s position (i.e. continuing with the strong Town Manager draft from January) was untenable given the overwhelming response from the voters against it. I am greatly impressed at the compromise exhibited by the committee as a whole and am grateful at the degree to which they listened to the citizens’ feedback.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago

I too want to thank the committee. They have worked very hard. I have been an advocate of a Town Manager form of government for over 10 years. I believe that we could take a step in that direction without the permission of the state but it is unclear to me how big that step would be. However, I have reluctantly concluded that I cannot support the draft in its current form.

My basic objection is that it cedes substantial authority currently vested in Town Meeting, our legislature, and transfers it to either the Board of Selectmen/Town Manager or to the State Legislature and that is a very serious mistake.

The draft, beyond describing the broad duties of a Town Manager, is full of lots of rules and regulations governing everything from appointment to town boards and committees, the process of selection of a Town Manager, control of information, control of the budget process, and many others. Today if we want to make a change in these types of rules Town Meeting can meet, debate, and vote. If this proposal were to pass, it would enshrine these rules and regulations in state law. If we wanted to change them we would have to apply to the legislature on bended knee for the authority to do what we have the power to do today.

I also have some specific objections to the transfer of the budget process from Town Meeting and the Advisory Committee to the Town Manager and to the language that greatly reduces the oversight role of the Advisory Committee.

Town Meeting has been meeting for about 285 years. It is older than either Congress or the State Legislature. In my opinion it is the finest of these 3 legislatures (an admittedly low standard). We have an honorable track record of vigorous and honest debate and have governed our selves pretty well. Even though I lose more often than win on the floor my respect for Town Meeting is very high. We should guard our powers and prerogatives very jealously, once lost they will never be returned. That is why I am voting no.

Tim Martel
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Mr Hamilton,

Other than advisory, is your objection the fact that this legislation is occurring via Special Act as opposed to a Town Charter? My understanding is that the Special Act goes to the State legislature, whereas the Town Charter is entirely self-contained to the Town. If so, then your objection is not so much the content as the method of ratifying it? Just a point of clarification.

Regarding advisory, it seems to me that their mandate has not changed. In fact, the onus of managing the process is removed from them, which would indicate that their primary duty of offering recommendation on budgets and specific line items should be facilitated. Further, funneling requests for information through a central point (in this case, a Town Manager) is a fairly standard procedure for appropriate record-tracking. At no point is the Town Manager empowered to deny or delay these requests. In short, the fundamental responsibilities of Advisory remain untouched, and the access they currently enjoy to information also remains.

Thank you.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel


I would feel differently about this draft if Town Meeting had the sole discretion to amend it as it saw fit. However, that is not the case. If we want to make a change we will have to go through an identical multi-year process to make that change that includes securing the permission of the Legislature and Governor.

I would also support a draft that was minimalist in nature. Asking the State Legislature only for the authority to create a Town Manager form of government and specify as little as possible making it clear that the details of the arrangement would be resolved by Town Meeting. This draft does not do that.

As far as the budget part of the legislation goes my objections fall into 6 parts.

1. The first relates to the objections stated above. It makes in very difficult for Town Meeting to change the budget process in the future even if it wants to.

2. The wording conspicuously trims Advisory’s authority to review management practices which is absolutely essential if effective budget review is to be done. It also gives Advisory far less access to town information than the existing by law does. In fact it gives Advisory less access to public information than any citizen has under the Mass Public Records Law.

3. It moves control of the budget process from the Legislature (Town Meeting) to an unelected bureaucrat who reports to an Executive Board which is formally responsible for less than 1/3 of town expenditures. As such it represents a substantial transfer of power from the Legislature to the Executive.

4. Finally, I struggle to figure out what is so broken about the budget process that we need to ask the State Legislature to intervene and codify a major change? If the budget process needs changing Town Meeting has all the authority it requires to make that change and it only requires 10 signatures on a warrant article to place the matter before Town Meeting. We can decide the matter for ourselves without “help” from Beacon Hill.

5. I think it is also telling that Advisory appears to be unaware of this change. It appeared to be a surprise to the Chair when I brought it to her attention. (Advisory members, please forgive and correct me it that is not right). If we are going to restructure the budget process wouldn’t it be a good idea to discuss this with the body with the greatest amount of experience with the budget? I assure you that there is no other body in town with the level of knowledge or experience in budget matters than Advisory.

6. Finally, this section smells of political pay back. The budget process is uncomfortable and difficult. It should be. Department heads are asking Town Meeting to compel citizens to turn over their hard earned money regardless of their desires. That is what taxes are, compelled payments. To justify this action the uses of these funds and the organizational behavior for which they are being used needs careful and through vetting and need to be challenged aggressively. This is not fun. The budget process is often the only time that departments are challenged.
In my opinion this proposal strips Advisory of some its authority and insulates departments from dealing with difficult questions. I think this smells of payback for those questions.

In every proposal of this type there are winners and losers. In my opinion the big winners in this proposal are the Board of Selectmen and the big loser is Town Meeting which will have its power to decide important matters of how we organize governmental processes greatly curtailed. Of all the boards, committees and officials we have in town the one that stands highest in my regard is Town Meeting. We are very lucky to have this form of legislature and we should not be stripping it of its authority to make wise decisions on our behalf in favor of the BOS or the State Legislature.

Tim Martel
10 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Thanks, Al.

Your comment about passing control from Town Meeting to the State Legislature (due to the means of ratification) is a significant issue, and one that hopefully will be discussed in detail on the 22nd. For myself, I’d like to better understand why the Special Act process was undertaken rather than the Town Charter. As of 2009:
a) 130 towns used home rule charter to define local gov.
b) 40 towns used special act to define local gov (not certain how many were prior to 1966, when home rule charters were first established).
c) 11 towns used special act to create town mgr/adm position only.

Useful document:

Regarding the actual content of the draft, I’m not seeing the impact to Advisory in the same manner. But I am also surprised that Advisory is not aware of the change in process (not mandate). Looking forward to discussing it further on the 22nd.

Betsy Rosenbloom
10 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Tim, the Town Governance Study Committee recommended in its 2007 “Final Report” that Southborough establish a Charter Commission to create a Home Rule Charter. See My recollection is that there was an effort to do this a few years back, but it was unsuccessful. My understanding from my research is that the Charter Commission process leading to a Home Rule Charter is different in significant respects from the path that was ultimately taken here, that of “Special Act/Special Legislation.” Perhaps someone who was involved in the effort a few years back could speak to why we did not end up with a Charter Commission.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel


A charter commission requires authorization by petition. I believe that it requires that something like 15% (I don’t recall the exact number) of registered voters sign the petition. I believe that the required number of signatures were received but not enough of them were verified to push the ball into the endzone.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago


I do see a major change. However, that is somewhat besides the point. If for some reason we wanted to change the budget process to the one described in the document we could do it at any town meeting we desired provided it was on the warrant. By simply changing the words Town Manager to Town Administrator we could adopt this proposal at the next town meeting and it would be done. Period. So, there is absolutely no reason to include this language in this document and no reason to ask for legislative sanction.

Changes to the budget process is a perfectly reasonable thing to discuss, debate and propose. I have been tempted to offer a by law myself (It would strengthen Advisory’s hand). We have a well proven mechanism for resolving these issues that works perfectly well, Town Meeting. How we plan for future taxing and spending is our business and we should keep the legislature out of it at all costs.

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