On the warrant: Giving the town administrator more authority, expanding the Board of Selectmen (Articles 7-9)

Above: Town Meeting will get another chance this year to consider changes to our government

Southborough’s Annual Town Meeting gets underway one week from today. (You’ll be there, right? Right?). To help you with your vote, this week we’ll be taking a look at some of the articles that appear on the warrant this year. I’ll share what information I have, but I encourage you to ask questions and share your opinions in the comments below. First up is a series of articles that aims to change aspects of our town government.

After a proposal to move to a town manager form of government narrowly failed at Town Meeting last year, supporters regrouped. This year they’ll present a set of three articles that ask voters to implement some of the principal elements proposed last year, while attempting to resolve concerns opponents had about the town giving away too much of its control to the state.

Here’s a rundown of the three articles.

Establish a Strong Town Administrator (Article 7)
This article proposes a new bylaw that would give more authority to the town administrator. Under the proposal, the town administrator would be allowed to supervise departments currently under the Board of Selectmen and would serve as personnel director.

Permit the Town Administrator to sign warrants (Article 8)
Every Tuesday, a quorum of the Board of Selectmen must show up at the Town House to sign warrants, payables, vouchers, and other related documents. Article 8 aims to give the Town Administrator the authority to sign the documents on the board’s behalf. Extending this authority to the town administrator requires approval of the State Legislature and a majority vote at the Southborough ballot box. So, Article 8 does not actually grant the town administrator the authority to sign warrants, rather it allows the Board of Selectmen to petition the state’s General Court to do so.

Expand the Board of Selectmen from three to five members (Article 9)
Of the three town governance articles, this one is perhaps the most controversial. Chairman of the Board of Selectmen John Rooney has come out in favor of expanding the size of the board, but fellow selectmen Dan Kolenda and Bill Boland have expressed concern. Rooney said expanding the board would entice residents who might not otherwise consider a run because of their busy schedules since the workload would be shared by five members instead of three. He also said an expanded board would invite more diversity. For their part, Kolenda and Boland question whether there would be enough interest to even fill the five seats. Like the previous article, Article 9 would require special legislation at the state level and a majority vote of Southborough voters at the ballot box.

For those of you who would like to learn more about these three articles, you can find all the supporting documentation on the town website. This comment by Town Manager Ad hoc Committee member Al Hamilton might also prove helpful.

What do you think? Will you support all three articles at Town Meeting? Do you have concerns or questions? Share in the comments below.

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Mark Ford
11 years ago

…I’m a bit unclear on Article 9. Well, Selectmen Boland’s and Kolenda’s voting on it, actually. I may be misreading this, and I apologize in advance if I am, but they voted to expand to five members, to make the process easier at Town Meeting–but they personally, and publicly, don’t support the article they voted for (?!). They’ve been pretty forthright in stating this. So what good have they accomplished by voting for the article?

This scenario ALONE actually makes me want more people on the Board. Vote the way you feel, and stand by that vote. I’m pretty sure that’s why you were elected.

11 years ago
Reply to  Mark Ford

Doesn’t it only say they are expressing “concern” about it? Have they actually said they oppose it while voting for it?

I think it’s a perfectly valid stance in this case. Expressing what concerns they have, then letting it move forward to the state legislators and then voters of the town seems like a reasonable approach.

Mark Ford
11 years ago
Reply to  Southville

If they’re concerned they shouldn’t vote for it, or should offer why the positives outweigh their concern. What I read is that they thought it should go before the voters without an uphill battle out of the gate. Couple that with …”I do have significant concern about that particular bylaw,” and I don’t see what uphill they think they’ve avoided.

I do not believe we’ll have a tough time finding qualified candidates, particularly with less town minutiae on the Board’s plate.

Pat Q.
11 years ago

Thanks for all the information in one place. You make it easy to stay informed Susan.
: )

11 years ago

Mr. Ford, I agree with your statement. Boland and Kolenda seem to be happy being on the fence on many issues. They dont take a stand because taking a stand will make them unpopular with some people. This is another example and a lousy style of leadership – it is no leadership at all.

SB Resident
11 years ago

I would be all for this except for this quote by Mr. Hamilton. “This is the first step in a process that may or may not end up with a Town Manager form of government.” I like compromises. I don’t want a town manager and prefer the many benefits of the current form of government, but all things have pro’s and con’s. I think these articles are fair and are a valid attempt to mitigate some con’s… a nice compromise. But when the “powers that be” even admit that these are a purposeful attempt at taking baby steps toward their goal of changing governments, then a compromise it surely isn’t.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Let me put my comment in perspective. At the present time I do not think we would be well served by going to a Town Manager form of Government. I opposed this move when it was proposed last year.

For over 10 years I have been in favor of empowering an executive to supervise the day to day operations of the town. The big question in my mind is how to get the balance right. How do we preserve local control and oversight by our elected officials to the greatest extent possible while empowering an executive with real authority. I opposed the last initiative because I believe we should jealously guard our local autonomy and it was a very big step that would be difficult and time consuming to change if we did not like the balance it struck.

Things change slowly in Town Govt. very very slowly. We have been working on the Strong TA/TM initiative for about 5 years. I for one believe that, assuming the Strong TA By Law passes at Town Meeting we should probably wait at least 3 years before we even consider any amendments. We should let the dust settle and see how things work for a while.

In the way of full disclosure there is, in my opinion, some unfinished business to attend to related to the budget process. This was not fully addressed in the TA By Law. We have a largely undocumented budget process with poorly defined roles and responsibilities and our budget process does not, in my opinion, conform to the process recommended the DOR, or the Mass Municipal Association. I believe we need to revise the Advisory By Law to improve the transparency of our budget process and to make roles and responsibilities clear. This task falls outside of the current committees mandate but does significantly impact the future role and responsibilities of the TA.

So, I don’t think there is any secret cabal that is scheming to use this by law as the thin edge of the wedge to force a TM down our throats. (At least nobody has invited me to the clandestine meetings). Any proposal that might in the future be made along these lines will have to at least pass muster with Town Meeting and the AG and probably the voters, and the State Legislature.

Let’s pass this by law, it preserves our options. We can see how it works out, and then in a few years determine if we are happy with what we did and see we want to make any changes. The choice will be entirely up to us.

SB Resident
11 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Thanks for the thoughtful response!

11 years ago

Rather than suggest that this is a lack of leadership, I see the Boland/Kolenda stance as one that purposely generates discussion. Considering the upcoming slate of unopposed office seekers, I also think such discussion has merit.

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