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."