SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Though they did not take an official vote, members of the Town Manager Legislation Ad Hoc Committee agreed Thursday that a five-member Board of Selectmen — up from the current three-member setup — would be the best option.
The Board of Selectmen tasked the committee with developing bylaws that would expand the size of the board and establish either a strong town administrator or a town manager. So far, the committee has preferred the strong town administrator option, because shifting to a town manager would require an act of the state Legislature.
By increasing the number of selectmen, individual members could focus more on policy and less on day-to-day operations, members say.
But it would be better to stick with the status quo if an article creating a stronger town administrator did not pass town meeting, committee member Timothy Martel said. He was worried that, if nothing else changed, it might be difficult to find more candidates to run for the additional seats.
Chairman Alfred Hamilton agreed with holding a vote on a town administrator article first but said he thought it would pass "if packaged properly."
Committee members also discussed two draft town administrator bylaws. The first, which Hamilton called a "lightweight bylaw," simply stated that the Board of Selectmen shall adopt a Town Administrator Authority Policy that lays out the town administrator’s responsibilities. The selectmen would maintain responsibility over policy direction.
The bylaw added that "the Board of Selectmen may only modify the Town Administrator Authority Policy by a majority-plus-one supermajority vote."
"I like the idea of a lightweight," committee member Roger Challen said. “Let's make it as simple as possible."
Martel disagreed. "This is not a strong town administrator bylaw," he said. "Theoretically, under this bylaw, the board could practically eliminate the town administrator position."
Hamilton acknowledged that the draft bylaw was only part of the solution but added that voters have the power to hold selectmen accountable for their decisions. "We really do have to trust the selectmen to do the job they were elected to do,” he said.
The second draft bylaw the committee reviewed was far more detailed, containing a description of a strong town administrator’s powers over administration, financial management and personnel. Under the policy, town administrators would be responsible for appointing and removing department heads, with selectmen approval. They would also be charged with setting budget guidelines and working with department heads to meet those goals.
Though the bylaw was well received by most committee members, they spent time discussing and editing the text.
"There are definitely important roles that we desperately need the town administrator to do," Hamilton said, adding that one such role would be creating a revenue estimate. He also said the town administrator should be "unambiguously responsible" for the budget proposals.