Thursday, April 3, 2014

Group Seeks To Upgrade Town Government From 2.0 To 1.2

Ken O’Brien

The Worcester telegram reports that the Southbridge group calling itself “We The People” has obtained the required number of certified signatures to have its plan to return to a selectmen/town meeting form of government placed on the June ballot.

Town Clerk Madaline Daoust said that of the 705 signatures turned in, 587 had been certified. That was 18 more than the 569 required as mandated by the Town Charter. The charter sets the threshold as 5% of the registered voters at the time of last regular town election.

Ms. Daoust said she had not yet forwarded the initiative to the town manager's office because she is waiting to hear from legal counsel to determine if the initiative would be binding or non-binding.

I have ventured the opinion that, as a result of the precedent set in the handling of last year’s amendments to the Town Charter, the petition as written would be binding. I have learned through experience, however, that the law becomes malleable when it conflicts with political interest and expediency.

The only thing that I find remotely attractive in the proposal is the establishment of a Finance Committee. However, as Councilor Moriarty recently observed, there used to be such a committee under the current town council structure. There is no reason that could not be brought back without the wholesale chaos that would result from Mr. Marino’s 40-year crusade.

In all other respects the plan amounts to little more than the shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic.

The fundamental process of decision-making would not be altered. Instead of a nine member council there would be a five member Board of Selectmen. Instead of a Town Manager there would be a Town Administrator. Big changes.

The town administrator would have to move to town. Again, that could be done under the current structure.

Department heads would be appointed by the selectmen instead of the town manager. Well, that will certainly take the politics out of it.


There would be a reduction in the number of people available to populate subcommittees to refine various proposals. Things are far more complex today than they were in 1974. This would require longer Board meetings, or more unelected members of subcommittees or even less vetting of issues than is currently the case.

Then there’s the overly idealized town meeting. Those of us who were around at the time know that one of the reason’s we changed to the current format was the erratic attendance at these conclaves as well as the tendency to have them stacked by partisans of one issue or another. There’s a big difference between Athenian Democracy and mob rule.

In the past I have repeatedly advocated for a strong mayor form of government. This would be a change that would actually alter the political dynamics.

Rather than repeat myself on the subject, I will refer you to a current article in Go Local Worcester titled “Paul Giorgio: Augustus is Out, Put a Mayor In”. Paul Giorgio is a longtime Democratic Party Activist who has worked on numerous campaigns. He was a Lead Advance Person for President Clinton & Vice President Gore. He was Deputy Director of Special Events for President Clinton’s first Inauguration. He has been elected a delegate to numerous Democratic National Conventions and recently served as one of President Obama’s representatives on the Platform Committee. In 2013 he was chosen as a Presidential Elector. He is the President of Pagio, Inc., publishers of Pulse Magazine, Vitality Magazine and Worcester Medicine.

His arguments echo those I have been making for the last fifteen years.

The mayor form of government is not appropriate only for large cities. Greenfield, which was recently cited as a template for Southbridge economic development in a presentation by Concord Square Development, has a mayor with a population of about 18,000.

Whatever form of government we have, however, is ultimately only a secondary – or even tertiary – factor.

The real factor is the people who occupy the seats of power. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "The fault, dear Joe, lies not in our organization chart but in our elected."


12 comments:

  1. Between the 2004 Charter and last year's amendments I should have titled it from 2.3 to 1.2. Oh Well.

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  2. Returning to a town meeting format may be the only solution to reigning in the spending. Langevin seems all set to waste another 1.1 million dollars for a school system that is failing miserably. We are getting a 15% increase in sewer bills. Backhoes for everyone.
    I'd love too see Buzz and his singing blue berries stand up at a town hall meeting and face the rather of the taxpayers. Buzz's rambling and antics would be quickly dismissed - as he should be.

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    1. That whole line of reasoning is based upon the assumption that a majority of those who turned up at a town meeting would be different from the majority that elected these clowns in the first place. I trust I don't have to repeat the old saw about what happens when you ASSUME.

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  3. The Council form of municipal government was formed in Medival times back in the 1200-1500 A.D. , and Town Meetings were created here in New England and became common in Colonial times. How is it that you consider the significantly older form of government 2.0 and tthe more democratic method of government 1.2?

    Are you still a Democrat? I have never heard a Massachusetts Democrat call Town Meetings " Mob Rule", although that us what the former Dixiecrat Mayor of Elizebeth City North Carolina called Town Meetings when there was an effort to try Town Meetings down there.

    With the current form of Government, the so-called "power of the Selectmen" is in the hands of the Town Manager-in the Town Meeting form of Government, the power of the Selectmen is of course in the hands of the Selectmen. I see this as a major difference, and it is why I support the measure being brought forth by many former Town Councilors and fellow Citizen's. I hope when it lpasses that you consider running for Town Moderator.
    As for the Mayor form of Government, I have heard that Councilor Clemence wants to put it on the ballot and thinks it should be a single six year term. How long would you like her or whomever else is chosen to be our Mayor?



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    1. Thank you for your thoughts.
      The council/manager form of government didn't emerge until the 20th century. On the basis you are using I could argue that town meetings started in ancient Athens.
      As regards your second point, a Dixiecrat was, by definition, a Democrat. As regards your second part of the observation, you have now.
      As regards your third point, while you are right in theory, in theory a bumble bee can't fly. The functional reality is that there is very little difference in the practical consequences of how the two systems operate.
      As regards what I propose for mayor, go to
      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxZPrM51Wd8EeXVrV2VzQWVFcG8

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  4. Look at Framingham.

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    1. You can point out the failure of any form of government.
      As I point out, the ultimate issue is the people who are elected to run it.
      Taking a bad driver out of a jalopy and putting them in a Maserati isn't going to make things any better.

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    2. On the other hand, taking an excellent driver out of a clunker and putting them in a Maserati will yield superior results.

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  5. So, does anybody else want to waste everybody's time on this really stupid idea that will accomplish nothing?

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    1. I couldn't agree more. This is a perfect example of what is wrong with this town. Rather than making a serious effort to deal with real problems and fix them, a bunch of cranks come up with some magic bullet that they try to convince people will solve all of their problems overnight.
      The sad part is that sometimes they succeed in convincing enough people of their harebrained scheme and then we spend another five or ten years arguing about it while things just get worse.

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  6. The problem is not the form of government, but the disaffected electorate. We have a town government of the few, by the few. How many of the registered voters actually vote in Southbridge? Then, how many people out there who are eligible to vote are simply not registered?

    Then, take a look at the people who are employed at the town hall... how many owe their jobs to family connections and not qualifications? I personally think that the town could save real money by cutting the time that the town hall is open in half. Open for half days that alternate from morning to afternoon with one day being in the evening.

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  7. The definition of insanity is.......

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