SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The Town Manager Legislation Ad Hoc Committee voted Thursday night in favor of a Town Meeting warrant article that would seek permission from the state legislature to add two members to Southborough’s three-member Board of Selectmen.
The committee is tasked with crafting a bylaw that would strengthen the role of the town administrator and relieve selectmen of many day-to-day responsibilities, allowing them to focus on policy. As part of this effort, the committee spent several meetings debating whether a larger Board of Selectmen might be more effective.
Committee chair Al Hamilton said on Thursday that a larger board would allow for more specialization among members, as well as a wider range of opinions. He argued that the current setup—which only requires the votes of two selectmen to get anything approved—constrained members.
"It does allow two selectmen to actually meet on the street and discuss a public matter,” Hamilton said. “It allows a new selectman to pick up the phone and ask, 'what does this mean, I don't understand' – which is actually illegal today."
Committee member John Rooney, who also serves as chairman of the Board of Selectmen, agreed. He said that members of a larger board would have an easier time learning about the issues they faced and their historical context.
Rooney also approved of giving more residents with different viewpoints an opportunity to serve. “You’re going to bring a certain diversity to the board,” he added.
Committee member Timothy Martel questioned whether the town could muster enough candidates to fill five seats, pointing out that many past selectmen races have been uncontested.
Rooney suggested that the committee’s own efforts to relieve selectmen of many responsibilities would renew interest among the public.
Added Hamilton: "I have three or four times over the years thought about running for (the Board of Selectmen), and then I went to a meeting."
The committee also addressed worries that some selectmen might use their position to directly influence day-to-day operations in town, and that a larger board would exasperate the problem. Martel reported that, according to Town Council, no individual selectman has a right to such influence. Where selectmen have jurisdiction, decisions must be made through majority vote.