Don McCauley–Boston Globe West February 27, 2016
Wellesley resident, former member of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and the Advisory Committee
“Massachusetts permits a dizzying array of municipal structures with differing allocation of responsibilities among administrators, boards, staff, and citizens. No size fits all. There are probably 351 varieties, in a state with that many cities and towns. The task is to use the alternatives to make improvements and maintain strengths”.
As a starting point, our town government in Wellesley works. Notably, we have been able to accomplish significant improvements, in particular creating a Facilities Maintenance Department and funding our retiree benefit liabilities, through the leadership of our existing executive director.
In 2014, Town Meeting authorized a Town Government Study Committee to review Wellesley’s government. This is a good practice and has been done before. The committee returned this fall with a sweeping proposal to concentrate power in a town manager to better coordinate the town’s government. But after only several weeks of public review this proposal was approved by a deeply divided Town Meeting and is now before Wellesley’s voters.
Alternatives were not presented. Could the Human Resources Department adopt policies to address personnel issues without a town manager? Could budgeting improvements be made without a town manager? Could the executive director be retitled town administrator without a special act? The answer to all three is yes, but these alternatives were not put forward.
Instead, centralized administration is embraced. The message is that all bodies in town must be subordinate to the town manager to improve efficiency and make government more businesslike.
But the collateral damage would be extensive. The remarkable level of citizen involvement that has and continues to shape the town would be diminished. The committee did not find that our town boards do not perform their missions well. Nonetheless, they will lose their ability to set their own budget priorities and hire their own directors.
This is a terrible case of “in-the-box” thinking that misses opportunities for improvement and jeopardizes the essential character of the town. We have issues, but we need to continue to face them with a collaborative structure that recognizes we are a community with multiple voices and talents, and reject the town manager structure as the town has rejected it before.