Letter: Vote ‘yes’ on ballot measures at town election – Monday, May 13

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

As not enough citizens of Southborough likely know, sandwiched in between our state primary and the special election to fill the seat vacated by John Kerry is our local town election on Monday May 13th. Raise your hand if you remembered. Come on now, tell the truth….

Although there are not many contested seats on our local ballot, there are two very important ballot items that will impact the way we govern ourselves in the future, Question 1 obviously being more significant:

Question 1:
Shall an act be submitted to the General Court in the year 2013, entitled ‘An Act Establishing a Five-Member Board of Selectmen for the Town of Southborough’ be accepted?

Question 2:
Shall the Town of Southborough cause an act to be submitted to the General Court in the year 2013, entitled ‘An Act Establishing the Authority of the Town Administrator to Sign Town Warrants for the Town of Southborough’ be accepted?

Both of these of these pieces of “special legislation” were overwhelming approved at the April 8th Town Meeting. but that is not enough to make them happen. They require a 3-step approval process, and approval by Town Meeting is only the first step. The second step is for approval by the voters at the ballot box, which is the reason for my writing this. The final step, which is out of our hands, is that they must be approved by the Legislature and Governor, but, hopefully, if approved by the town voters, that should be no problem.

I urge you to support Town Meeting and vote yes on both of these questions.

Question 1 expands the number of selectmen from 3 to 5. This was extensively debated on the floor of town meeting and overwhelmingly approved by a 4:1 margin. This has been a consistent recommendation of every town governance proposal in town for the last 6 years. Almost all, if not all, of the other nearby towns have 5 person boards of selectmen. Not one town has changed back to 3. This will improve policy stability, diversity, and improve communications. But, having been a Southborough Selectman, if I had to give you just one simple reason to vote yes for this change, it would be to tell you that the job is just too darn big for three people. We have been doing the town and its citizens a disservice for some years now by trying to perform the work with a three person Board, and thankfully, we now can change that.

Question 2 is another step in the process of unburdening the Board of Selectmen from the minutia of town operations. It permits the Town Administrator to sign warrants for the payment of town bills and payrolls. Currently a majority of the Board of Selectmen must sign the payment warrants each week, which has become for the most part just a rubber stamp function that has no practical merit. There are more than adequate financial controls in place without this cumbersome piece of bureaucracy.

With the almost unanimous approval of a new Town Administrator By Law at Town Meeting and the Board of Selectmen’s revised Town Administrator’s job description, Southborough has taken the first steps towards making the Town Administrator responsible for the day to day operation of much of Town Government. This will enable the Board of Selectmen to really take on more of a much needed oversight and strategic planning role that will enable them to begin dealing with many of the longer term issues that face our community including unfunded pension liabilities, long term facilities and capital maintenance issues, development, personnel, and tax policies as well as a host of other issues. Dealing with these important issues is a lot of work. Let’s support our town’s future by providing a structure that enables us to have enough leaders to perform the work.

And as I said above, folks, our job is not done yet. These two pieces of special legislation need to be broadly supported at the ballot. Please get out to vote, and I urge you to vote yes to both of them on Monday, May 13th

Roger Challen
Southborough, MA

6 Comments
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John Butler
9 years ago

I add my voice to Roger’s in asking you to go to the polls and vote for these articles.

I have served for about 30 years on several Town committees. During that time the population of the Town has doubled. We can no longer govern ourselves as we did when we were half the current size or smaller. As three different study committees have concluded, the Town very much needs these changes.

Sometimes people who are not close to the current government say, “If it is not broken, don’t fix it.” What this point of view does not realize is that it is gravely broken. The difficulty of citing examples is that it sounds critical of people who have served. I believe that if we have a broken structure, the best volunteers in the world can’t save it. Those of us who have been close to our Town government operations know that gross errors have occurred. A half decade ago Advisory Committee was abruptly told that an audit had “found” about $4 million that we didn’t know we had. We had passed an override that year because we didn’t know that money existed. Many more examples could be cited. Although no structure can promise that these mistakes could not have occurred, adopting the “tried and true” is likely to avoid many errors. The form these changes would move us into is merely the normal way of governing Towns of our size.

The most substantive concern about the move to a five person Board of Selectmen is that we will not have enough qualified candidates. I suggest that, on the contrary, if we move to a five person board we will have more and better candidates. The reason is that the old model of a three person executive is fatally broken and many reasonable people who understand this are unwilling to volunteer for a job that is all-consuming and doomed. John Rooney, one of our current Selectmen, said at Town Meeting, that had it not been for this chance to expand the board he would not have run for a second term. So, I think by making the job comprehensively possible we will get better and more volunteers to serve on it. A five person board is vital to a better future governance.

Again, I urge you to go to the polls and support the proposals.

Mike Fuce
9 years ago

Agree, I am also impreesed with our new Town Administrator.

southsider
9 years ago

I don’t share the sense of urgency for a 5 member BOS. Further, it’s a bit of a dis-service to those reading the blog to not also remind those readers that 2 out of the 3 current Selectmen opposed the expansion.
The argument that the job is “too big for three” or that being a Selectman is “all consuming” does not take in to account the upcoming changes to the job resulting from the change in the authority of the Town Administrator.
My opinion: Vote ‘yes’ on Q2 but defer Q1 until our incumbents can better weigh in on the impact of the expanded Administrator responsibilities

Al Hamilton
9 years ago
Reply to  southsider

Southsider

It is true that 1 out of the 2 Selectmen that attended was opposed (Bill Boland) and Dan Kolenda who could not attend was also opposed.

I think that is telling, if a single Selectmen cannot attend a meeting then it kind of brings the operation of the BOS to a standstill or at least a snails pace since it requires unanimity from the remaining 2 to proceed on any matter. With 5 the absence of 1 is not as crucial.

This matter was well debated on the floor of Town Meeting and was approved by a very wide margin 131 to 30. This is the right thing to do and I think that the voters should ratify Town Meetings approval.

Resident
9 years ago
Reply to  southsider

Keep in mind that increasing the Board to 5 from 3 also dilutes the power of any single individual member. That could also be the reason why the idea might not by supported by any given member.

I have worked extensively with the BOS, both the current board and previous boards. Increasing the Board to 5 members would be a huge improvement on the functioning of the board, the diversity of opinion represented by the Board and the Board’s ability to represent a more accurate cross-section of our town.

Tim Martel
9 years ago
Reply to  southsider

Southsider, I would like to mention that many of the responsibilities given to the Town Admin by the new bylaw were also included in Mr. Purple’s contract. He has been performing these duties since last fall, and the feedback to date is very positive (as evidenced in part by the overwhelming support for the bylaw at Town Meeting).

The nature of the 2 Selectmen’s opposition at Town Meeting was in regards to the “availability of candidates”, and not that they felt the new Town Admin reduced the workload on the 3-member BOS. What the strong TA aims to do is to free the BOS from day-to-day operations in order for them to “transfer” that time to larger policy issues. The job of the Selectmen is still “consuming”, but the role has changed.

What the BOS expansion aims to do (in addition to adding stability) is to bring additional perspectives and the ability to specialize, which will be critical to ensuring that these long-reaching policy decisions are as effective as possible.

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