MWDN: Southborough selectmen revive town manager effort

I wasn’t able to attend last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, but the Metrowest Daily News was there and reports on an interesting development in the ongoing effort to change Southborough’s form of government. Selectmen voted last night to create an ad hoc committee that will be charged with bringing Town Manager legislation before voters once again.

Writes the MWDN:

Worried that changes to the town administrator’s job description could be too temporary, selectmen last night voted to create a committee charged with bringing measure back to Town Meeting to create a town manager.

The Town Manager Legislation Ad Hoc Committee will consist of Selectmen Chairman John Rooney and four others — one member of the Advisory Committee, one resident to be appointed by the Advisory Committee and two residents to be appointed by selectmen.

Rooney said the committee will be charged with “ironing out the wrinkles” in the most recent failed proposal and crafting legislation to be resubmitted to Town Meeting in the fall or next spring.

Voters at Town Meeting in April decided to indefinitely postpone an article that would have created the position of Town Manager, as well as expand the Board of Selectmen from three to five members. The vote was a close one, passing by a margin of only 11, and came after nearly two hours of discussion.

Read more about last night’s development in this article by the MWDN, including what impact Rooney thinks the decision might have on the ongoing search for a new town administrator.

What do you think? Should the legislation be brought before voters again? Would you vote differently now than you did in April? What changes would you have to see in order to lend your support? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Al Hamilton
11 years ago

I think the BOS has done a pretty good job of delegating (at least on paper) the powers that were theirs to delegate to the new TA. The new TA will have direct supervision over all departments under the BOS and a number of other identified responsibilities. This covers the majority of things that were in the previous draft of TM legislation. There is some unfinished business though:

1. Expansion of the BOS from 3 to 5 members – This requires special legislation

2. Any other authorities requiring special legislation – It is not clear if there are any items in this category.

3. Restructuring of Govt under the BOS and TA – The previous proposal would have made the Town Clerk and a number of other functions fall under the TA and by extension the BOS. This can be done by Town By Law

4. Restructuring of the Budget Process – Taking some of the roles currently under Advisory and giving them to the TA and by extension the BOS. This can be done by Town By Law.

Because each of these things is different, and stands on its own, I for one would like to see them broken into 4 separate articles.

Tim Martel
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

The other item that has to be enacted via special act is Section 2c of the previous legislation brought before Town Meeting.

I’d prefer to keep any new legislation to as few documents as possible, which is two – one Special Act, one Town Bylaw. Keep it concise and focused.

Also, the Town Bylaw should pass or fail before the Special Act is voted upon, as the Town Bylaw’s success might dictate to some degree the contents of the Special Act.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel


Section 2C is the clause that restricts the role of the BOS to Policy and Planning. This would strip them of much of the “innate” (Commonwealth authorized) authority that is that they currently have and deposit that authority on the TA/TM.

This is a very big deal, larger than going from 3 to 5 Selectpersons. Good cases can be made in favor and against and I think it should be debated and voted on separately.

There are at least 2 locally controlled means of achieving the same end.

1. The BOS could at any time vote to make this their policy. Their vote is as binding (but less permanent) as state legislation.

2. We can elect members of the BOS who commit themselves to this vision of their role. We just had an election and one of the major differences between the candidates was their view of how “hands on” the BOS should be. Mr. Boland, who in my opinion represents the more “hands on” approach, won decisively. I supported his opponent but the voters have spoken and we should not try to undo their will with a legislative “end run”.

This is a big deal. I am easily convinced of the wisdom of going from 3 to 5 selectpersons, I am far more skeptical of the wisdom of 2C.

For the other parts, I believe they should be dealt with separately. They are substantially different. One deals with the what departments and authorities will fall under the BOS/TA and the TA’s relationship with departments that fall outside of the BOS’s supervision. The other is a restructuring of the budget process.

Again, I could easily see being in favor of one but not the other and I think Town Meeting should have the choice.

Tim Martel
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton


Generally speaking, we are going after the same thing but in different ways. To me, there are two fundamental questions that Town Meeting needs to address rather than a plethora of smaller items.

Question 1: Do we want a weak or a strong Town Administrator?

This question can be addressed entirely by a Town Bylaw composed of two items from the previous “town mgr” legislation:
–Component 1: restructure the budget process
–Component 2: restructure the town government under the TA/BOS.

To break this question into smaller parts is to remove focus upon the fundamental question. If the town wants a stronger Town Admin, then the two components of the Town Bylaw should pass or fail together.

Question 2: Do we want our Board of Selectmen to focus on day-to-day tasks, or on broader policy issues?

This question can be addressed only by a Special Act, that has two possible components:
–Component 1: this is section 2c from the previous town mgr legislation. This section alienates certain powers from the BOS and hands them to the Town Admin. (Note: adopting this specific component is the catalyst that turns a “Town Admin” into a “Town Mgr”, at least in the eyes of the Attorney General.)
–Component 2: expanding the BOS from 3 to 5 members.

The Special Act (i.e. question 2) should only be addressed by Town Meeting after the Town Bylaw (i.e. question 1) has been resolved. This is because there are four possible outcomes, and not all are equal:

Outcome 1: Strong TA, BOS with “policy” focus
Outcome 2: Weak TA, BOS with “policy” focus
Outcome 3: Strong TA, BOS with “day-to-day” focus
Outcome 4: Weak TA, BOS with “day-to-day” focus

–Outcomes 1 and 4 are both effective forms of government, and should be the focus of debate for our town “moving forward”.
–Outcome 3 would be doable, but frustrating for all involved as the TA and BOS potentially clash over authority.
–Outcome 2 is a terrible idea as no one owns “the buck”.

Conclusion: based on the resolution of Question 1, the Special Act should be crafted to promote one of the better outcomes.
–If a strong Town Admin is chosen, then the Special Act should include both components (i.e. outcome 1).
–If a weak Town Admin is chosen, then the Special Act should include only the BOS increase component (i.e. outcome 4).

FYI, the BOS increase can be handled separately from these two fundamental questions, but there is no point in adopting two separate Special Acts so I bundled it with Section 2c.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel


The BOS will be appointing a committee to work these issues. They will be taking a member from Advisory and a member recommended by advisory as well as a member (or two) they nominate as well as a member of the BOS. If you know anyone on either Advisory or the BOS I suggest you put your name in as you have clearly thought about this issue deeply.

I am not convinced that your logical breakdown is as clean as you believe it to be. Today, we have a weak TA form of govt. As envisioned in the job description written by the BOS we would have a strong TA. Town Departments would report directly to the TA and the TA would have other powers that the Selectmen have in the past carried themselves. I for one think that is adequate. I would prefer not to enshrine some artificial boundary between policy and hands on in state legislation if at all possible.

I do not think it wise to have the BOS completely insulated from the day to day operations of the town. It would be difficult to deal with policy issues if it were.

The model you are suggesting is very similar to the one we have in the Schools where the Superintendent has all the real authority and the School Committee is more or less a rubber stamp. I for one do not think the schools are well governed and am reluctant to move the municipal equation too far in that direction.

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