Saturday, April 22, 2017

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 by:

        Focusing on communities who had made the switch from a 3 to a 5 member board

        Further 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 pending matters.

      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 work.

      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 such issues.

      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.

This 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:

“…expanding 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.” 

The following TGSC’s conclusions were presented to the Town Meeting.

1.      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.

2.      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.

3.      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.

4.      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 brains

More educational backgrounds

More work capacity

More areas of expertise and skillsets

More perspectives on problems

More representation for citizens.

What’s not to like!

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.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

An Advocate for Milton

Tomorrow is Primary Election Day.

For the first time in 18 years Milton will have a new representative in the Massachusetts House. The opportunity created a large field of candidates – five from Milton and two from Randolph.

Despite the large number of candidates, I think one candidate stands apart from the others – based on his experience, accomplishments and the key issues he’s chosen to focus on. And that candidate is Mike Zullas.


·         Mike is the only Milton candidate who has spent most of the past decade working for Town Government

·         He is the only Milton candidate to be elected and serve in a town-wide position

·         He is the only Milton candidate to serve a three year term on the Warrant Committee

So Mike understands what the key issues are for Milton, both from listening to voters going door to door in two campaigns now, and in serving in both elected and appointed office; he knows how our children are being educated and what the State could do to help communities in this very important task; and he understands municipal finance, specifically Milton finance.


·         On the School Committee he worked with other members to provide funds for “Advancement Budgets” to target the closing of achievement gaps, improve Early Childhood Literacy and raise student outcomes in STEM. The investments have shown progress.

·         As Chairman of the School Committee he lead negotiations with the Milton Teachers Union. The result was a win/win, with the Town agreeing to not change the Health Plans and the Teachers agreeing to pay a larger share of their premiums. This compromise was taken to the Selectmen who proposed it to the Town’s non-School unions and it was accepted. The savings to Milton will be over $250,000 in annual health insurance costs beginning in year three.

·         As Chairmen of the Town/Schools Consolidation Committee Mike lead the committee to three important recommendations (1) The Town should institute a paperless payroll system, and convert to a bi-weekly pay period. This creates modest savings in dollars, and significantly increases the efficiency of all the employees involved in this process.  The Town has implemented this.  (2) The committee recommended that the Town purchase new financial software to permit electronic Purchasing Orders and superior functionality in areas of Budgeting and financial forecasting. The Town agreed and the first half has been purchased. (3) The committee recommended the creation of a Chief Procurement Officer to ensure the town was getting the best pricing on millions of dollars of purchases, and to ensure compliance with State purchasing laws.

·         As both a member of the Warrant Committee and the School Committee, Mike played an important role in preserving crucial services throughout the town for the last seven years without the need for an override.

Key Issues

·         Mike was raised in Brockton and attended their public schools. He went to a fine Liberal Arts college and then to Law School. He believes that Education remains the great leveler when it comes to providing all children equal opportunity. He will focus on educational issues like Early Childhood Literacy and funding for Chapter 70, as well as more equity in the Chapter 70 formula which today penalizes communities like Randolph

·         Mike’s father was a Police Officer, and later a Detective for the Massachusetts State Police.  He understands that without adequate Public Safety, it is very difficult for a community to accomplish all its other goals.

I suppose there are many reasons people can use to select a candidate. But if you think experience, competence, proven ability and a focus on the right issues are important, than Mike Zullas is the best advocate for Milton

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Warrant Article 15 - Strong Town Administrator

This article asks the Town Meeting to codify and strengthen the role of the Town Administrator as the town’s chief operating officer. It represents the recommendation of the Town Government Study Committee, of which I am a member.

The position of Town Administrator is mentioned in our bylaws, but the roles, responsibilities and authority are not defined in any way.  This differs from the practice in most communities and means that each successive Board of Selectmen could in effect define the position.  This is not good practice and could lead to instability both for the way town operations are run and in filling the position with highly qualified and skilled professionals.

The article also seeks to increase the authority of the Town Administrator in keeping with a widespread trend in municipal government in Massachusetts.

The dominant form of government in Massachusetts remains the Town Meeting form.  It is hundreds of years old and is a defining characteristic of the New England region.  Its resiliency stems from thoughtful accommodations to modernity - the changes modern life exerts on self-governance. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Open Town Meeting gave way to the Representative Town Meeting in those communities whose populations made the Open Town Meeting either too unwieldy or not sufficiently representative of a large community. Beginning in the 1950’s and continuing for 3 decades the trend toward the professionalization of town governance occurred, as Executive Secretaries, and Town Administrators and Town Managers assumed the administrative and operational roles that volunteer Boards of Selectmen composed of citizens with full time jobs could no longer hope to execute.

The most recent trend finds towns making changes to centralize authority for town management. The first period of professional town management saw “weak” Town Administrators with limited authority taking over some of the functions previously performed by Selectmen. The trend now is to put nearly all operational authority under the Town Administrator, freeing the Board of Selectmen to spend the limited amount of time they can devote to questions of policy and long range planning for the town.

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue strongly supports this trend. In its 2013 report on the town it said: 

There is a growing trend in Massachusetts local government favoring a centralized management approach under the direction of a strong town administrator. Operating under the board of selectmen’s oversight, an empowered town administrator handles the bulk of daily management-related activities and can implement strategy across municipal operations, monitor financial management functions, and supervise the administration of all departments, boards and committees outside the jurisdiction of the schools. This model has emerged as the best way to promote accountability in government because it establishes a strong chain of command with clear lines of authority. Within this structure, employees have well-defined roles and responsibilities, tasks can be easily delegated, collaboration is promoted and encourages efficiency.”

A consultant from the Municipal Management Association also supported this move before a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Government Study Committee.

Another consulting resource to Massachusetts Communities, The Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts at Boston echoes the benefits of a strong Town Administrator in a report it made to the Town of Sherborn.

“…as the elected leaders of the Town’s executive branch, the Board of Selectmen should have the time and capacity to set policy and direction for the Town.  … Achieving this has grown more and more difficult, as the increasing complexities of operating a municipal government and the increasing statutory demands make decision‐making both more difficult and potentially more consequential. A strengthened Town Administrator can lift some of the more mundane tasks and decisions

from the Board of Selectmen.”

As for the role this change would open up for Boards of Selectmen, the Collins Center says:

“…we believe that the Board of Selectmen should be devoting more time to big‐picture strategic issues, long‐term planning, and goal‐setting. We believe this as a general matter for the Town. Additionally, the current Board’s core competencies and comparative advantages are not being used profitably by spending time debating the minutiae of the management of the Town’s operations. Those competencies and advantages could be put to more valuable use thinking strategically about issues such as long‐term plans for revenue, regionalization opportunities, the development of performance measures, and other such issues.”


As I’m sure was the case with past changes to our Town Meeting government, this one will likely be met with concern by some, and some will even predict disaster. I’ve already heard concerns expressed that sound very dire. For example, the fear has been expressed that with the power to appoint the Police Chief, the Town Administrator could appoint a non-resident to that office, departing from long standing tradition in our town. But the Board of Selectmen today could appoint a non-resident to that job, and retaining a veto power on the appointment of Department heads, as the Selectmen do under this article, represents no real change. The Board has the ability to set policy and provide the Town Administrator with direction in hiring. No professional Town Administrator is going to jeopardize their job making decisions so out of tune with the community. I’m sure it will not surprise you to discover that Milton is not an early adopter on these kind of issues. Many communities have gone down this path without consequential adverse results.


The Town Government Study Committee, with three former Selectmen and a Town Administrator of over 30 years, voted unanimously to support this change. The Warrant Committee voted unanimously to support this change.  The current Board of Selectmen, including newcomer David Burnes, support this change.  I hope my fellow Town Meeting Members will support this change at the Town Meeting so that we can continue to adapt the Town Meeting form of government to the changing circumstances of the modern world.