Thursday, June 08, 2006

June 13th Election – Question Two – Moderator’s Term

Lost in the flurry of activity and discussion around the Proposition 2 ½ override is the presence on the ballot of a second question – one which would amend the Town Bylaws to increase the term of the Town Moderator from 1 year to 3 years.

The impetus for this change was a Citizens' Petition presented to the Annual Town Meeting in May of 2005. The article was supported unanimously by the Warrant Committee, the Board of Selectmen, and the Town Meeting. Following that vote, the Selectmen were required to ask the Massachusetts Legislature to approve this home rule petition, which they have done.

The position of Town Moderator goes back to the very beginnings of the Town Meeting form of Government. The moderator was elected as the very first order of business of the town meeting, and served only for the length of that town meeting. So the original term of office for the moderator was a sessional term. Subsequent town meetings in the course of the same year required another election for moderator by town meeting.

During this early period Selectmen, Town Clerks, Treasurers and other officials were also elected by the town meeting.

The Moderator’s duties were focused on the Town Meeting itself. This responsibility was placed in the hands of an individual who the public viewed as having the character and learning required to regulate the business of the meeting in a fair and efficient manner.

Beginning in the 19th century, election to these offices began to be conducted by town-wide ballot, and the moderator and other officials were elected to one-year terms. The moderator would preside at all town meetings held during that year.

As town government has become more complex and the time commitment for officials has grown, most communities have moved to three- year terms for positions such as Selectman, Treasurer and Town Clerk.

The Moderator’s responsibilities have also grown. From an initial focus on the town meeting itself, the moderator has acquired substantial appointive duties to various volunteer committees. In 1870 a number of citizens in the then town of Quincy formed the first finance committee in the Commonwealth because of their dissatisfaction with the community’s financial affairs. The popularity of finance committees grew quickly and in 1930 the Massachusetts courts ruled them as a legal entity for municipal government, and in the same year the legislature made them a mandatory component of town government for all but the smallest of communities. Today roughly 80% of finance committees are appointed, with 80% of those appointed by the town moderator, as is the case in Milton.

Over time there has been a proliferation of volunteer committees, both standing committees and special committees. They have become indispensable to preserving the viability of the town meeting form of government. They bring expertise to the increasingly complex nature of municipal management without turning the town meeting’s authority over to a cadre of full-time professional managers. In Milton today, the Town Moderator makes appointments to 10 different committees. A total of 69 Milton residents fill these positions. All of these committees serve specialized needs, and it is the responsibility of the Moderator to search far and wide for people with a wide variety of experience, talent, and a commitment to serve. This is a time consuming task, and an ongoing one that is not best suited to a single year term of office.

All across the state communities are recognizing the appropriateness of a three year term for moderator, just as they have recognized it as appropriate for other town offices. According to Ed Newman of the Massachusetts Moderator's Association, the breakout of different term lengths is as follows -- 164 towns maintain a 1 year term for moderator, a significant number of these are small communities with an open town meeting, 135 towns have adopted a 3 year term, and 2 towns have a two year term.

A three year term for Town Moderator makes sense for the role that position plays, and will bring it into conformity with other elected town positions. I urge you to vote yes on Question 2 on Tuesday June 13.


Blogger Philip Mathews said...


5:57 PM  

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