Last month, this page offered the Hamilton Government Study Committee's answers to frequently asked questions about its recommendation to hire a professional town manager. Here the committee argues for increasing the number of selectmen from three to five in a similar format. Both issues are on the warrant for the annual Town Meeting later this spring.
Q: Why does the Government Study Committee (GSC) recommend increasing the Board of Selectmen to five members?
A: The GSC thinks it is critical that we change the way the Board of Selectmen functions as we move to a town manager system of governance. The board needs to set priorities and goals, plan strategically, supervise the town manager and think about the long-term needs of the town.
Being involved in day-to-day operations impedes decision-making and cripples efficient management. Making a change to five selectmen signals not only the importance of revising the role of the board but will also:
Make it easier for more people to run for the office because the burden on individual selectmen will be lightened;
Increase the expertise, experience and diversity of the board;
Give selectmen time to be in closer communication with boards and committees;
Make it possible for two selectmen to meet to discuss town business, which is now prohibited by the Open Meeting Law.
Q: Does the role of the Board of Selectmen change with the hiring of a town manager?
A: The Board of Selectmen will no longer be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the town and will focus on long-range planning, revenue generation and policy setting, not day-to-day management, which is impossible given the short time in which the board meets and the selectmen's relatively brief terms in office.
Q: Do other towns have five-member boards?
A: Yes. Several of the surrounding towns have a five-member board of selectmen.
Q: How does having five members impact the Open Meeting Rule?
A: With a three-member board, two members represent a quorum. As a result, two members cannot discuss town business unless it is during the posted Board of Selectmen meeting. Members must research and think about agenda items alone, pending any discussion until the weekly meeting.
Moving to a five-member board allows two members to discuss agenda items outside of the weekly meeting, since it takes three members to represent a quorum. This may result in a more thorough discussion during the posted meeting.
Q: How will having five selectmen benefit residents of Hamilton?
A: If we have a town manager who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the town, the selectmen can focus on crucial issues such as generating revenue, long-term planning and strategic thinking. In the current situation, they have little time for this vital work. Having five members of the board will increase representation of citizens and our concerns.
Q: Will having five selectmen cost more?
A: Selectmen receive a stipend of $200 a month, so having five instead of three will cost $400 more per month. However, because the workload will be reduced, the town might reduce the stipend, as well.
Q: Will the town manager have to report to five different selectmen, and if so, would that be a distraction from his or her work?
A: It would certainly be a distraction for the town manager to report to all five selectmen, so we recommend that he or she officially communicate through the chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Q: When will we make this change?
A: We hope voters will approve a bylaw change to increase the number of selectmen at this year's Town Meeting. The enlarged Board of Selectmen would be voted in at the May 2010 town election.