Support a Five Member Board of Selectmen
Tuesday is Election Day.
In addition to the races for various offices, there is a ballot question
which requires your attention.
It appears at the bottom of the ballot and is called
Question 1. It asks whether you support an increase in the size of the Board of
Selectmen from 3 members to 5 members. The recommendation for this change came
from the Town Government Study Committee, of which I’m a member. It was supported at the time by the Board of
Selectmen and passed rather handily at Town Meeting.
The Town Government Study Committee (TGSC) spent over a year
studying this issue after the Massachusetts Department of Revenue recommended
it in a Fiscal Management Review published in September of 2013.
Fellow TGSC member Leroy Walker and I led the research
effort to provide the entire committee with the information necessary for
informed discussion and decision making. Phase I involved talking with former
Milton Selectmen and Selectmen in other communities similar to Milton. A
variety of views were expressed, but it became apparent that merely tapping the
experience of people who had only real world experience in one type of Board
would not provide us with the best comparison of 3 and 5 member Boards.
Phase II of the research attempted to target this concern
on communities who had made the switch from a 3 to a 5 member board
narrowing the target to communities who switched recently (last ten years)
By talking to towns who had made the switch recently we could
expect to find strong institutional memory about why the size of the board was
increased; how the change was implemented; and how the results of the change
lived up to expectations. We identified
a number of such towns with the help of the Massachusetts Municipal Association
and conducted extensive conversations with them. The results revealed very
strong support of the switch with a number of benefits for those communities.
Better distribution of Selectmen workload – A
larger number of Selectmen allows for greater opportunity to assign
executive-level work (long-term planning, policy development, oversight of
implementation of policies, programs, initiatives and organization structure
changes). This should also allow for more work to be completed and faster
decision-making in a shorter amount of time.
Better Selectmen accessibility (for
residents) – Should allow for residents to have greater success
in reaching a Selectmen more quickly with issues of concern or feedback on
Greater Efficiency/Opportunity for offline
discussions between Selectmen – The resolution of many of the
executive-level decisions that Selectmen are asked to make requires significant
analysis and discussion. Allowing some of this analysis and discussion to be
completed and discussed by two Selectmen between meetings could produce more
efficient and effective decision-making and increase the likelihood of more
quickly achieving consensus.
More Flexibility/Opportunity for Selectmen
Subcommittees – A larger number of Selectmen would allow for the
organization of two- person subcommittees. Such subcommittees could work in
between regular Selectmen meetings to organize, delegate and complete required
Ease of Operation on
Difficult/Controversial Issues – Bringing a larger number of
Selectmen perspectives to bear on difficult or controversial issues increases
the likelihood that at least three members could agree and successfully address
Broader Diversity of Views/Skill Sets –
Increasing the number of Selectmen also increases the likelihood that there
would be a greater number of perspectives on any given issue.
Phase III of the research looked at the distribution of Board
sizes state-wide overall and by population size.
There are 298 communities with a Town Meeting and a Board of
Selectmen. Overall they are fairly evenly split between 3 and 5 member boards.
157 (53%) have 3 member boards
140 (47%) have 5 member boards
1 town has a 7 member board (Wakefield)
When you look at the split by population size however, you
discover that 3 member boards are overwhelmingly a small town phenomenon.
For communities with populations over 20,000, only 11% still
employ a 3 member board. Including
Milton, that is 5 communities of this size out of 44 total communities.
overwhelming propensity for towns with larger populations (20,000+), larger
budgets and greater complexity to have 5 member BOS is undoubtedly what led the
Massachusetts Department of Revenue to recommend:
resident representation on the board of selectmen by increasing its membership
from three to five. The current three-member board is conducive to small town
governance in which the selectmen play a stronger role in daily municipal
affairs. In a town with a population over 27,000, a budget approaching $98
million, and a wide range of town administrative functions, the role of the
selectmen shifts. An expanded number of selectmen creates greater oversight of
the town administrator position and broadens resident representation on the board.
The board will therefore have greater capacity to explore issues by allocating
responsibilities to more members and decisions will be more thorough because
two additional perspectives are present. Also, because winning a majority of
three, versus two votes, is more difficult, the prospects increase for greater
collaboration; and with no more than two members elected each year, the board
will experience greater stability and continuity. One possible downside is that
meetings could be longer.”
TGSC’s conclusions were presented to the Town Meeting.
The TGSC research indicates significant differences in
terms of the advantages offered by a five-member Board of Selectmen vs. a
three-member Board of Selectmen.
The management challenges for the BOS presented by a
$100 million Town budget are dramatically greater than when the budget was a
quarter or half that size.
The five-member Board model offers many more advantages
and fewer disadvantages and is the best model for Milton and the
recently-approved Strong Town Administrator model.
It also represents a more appropriate size for a “Board
of Directors” overseeing a day to day executive of the Town.
During conversations with the Chairmen of the Board of
Selectmen from Sudbury, he put it more directly.
More educational backgrounds
More areas of expertise and
More perspectives on problems
More representation for citizens.
I hope you’ll support Question 1 on Tuesday. Just as Milton residents agreed decades ago
to switch from an open town meeting to a representative town meeting, we must
once again adapt to ensure that the Town Meeting form of government continues to
serve the needs of our town.