Need for Change Exaggerated says Tom Frisardi

Thomas Frisardi–Wellesley Townsman, March 10, 2016

Why would residents who have the right to manage their own government yield a substantial part of this right to a single person, who is not even necessarily a resident of the town? Removing power from volunteer boards and committees reduces the value of serving on such a committee and will discourage citizen participation. Why would someone volunteer their time to basically act in a supporting role for someone who is earning $200,000 a year…

 

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I am writing to urge residents to vote no on the special act to adopt a town manager form of government in Wellesley. It is my opinion that the effect of such a change will be to consolidate authority over town government in the hands of a few town employees and political insiders. I also believe that it will discourage residents from participating in town government, which would be a significant change in our town.

The need for change has been greatly exaggerated.

Wellesley has had effective central financial planning for decades. Our Executive Director prepares a town-wide financial plan, including a five-year capital plan, and presents it at town meeting each year. The Board of Selectmen presents the budget at town meeting. There is no better evidence of the strength of the town’s existing arrangement of financial management than the fact that credit rating agencies cite it in rating the town’s debt AAA.

HR practices can be improved, but the current practice of having elected and appointed boards select and review department heads is a sound one, as it is an important means by which boards implement their policy. Having a town manager take over the hiring, firing and review of department heads seriously undermines the capacity for elected and appointed boards to implement policy. Moreover, the change would make it possible for a town manager to undermine the policy decisions of elected boards.

As most people know, the special act would replace the position of executive director with a town manager with greater authority over budget and personnel decisions, particularly concerning department heads, supplanting the authority of volunteer residents who serve now. To my mind, this increases the potential for a person with the highest management role in our town to become autocratic and obstructive.

The suggestion that creating the town manager position will free up elected and appointed boards to pursue policy simply makes no sense. It is through decision making that the most important policy choices are made. Further, what is the sense in volunteering time to formulate policy, if one does not have the authority to see the policy implemented?

Why would residents who have the right to manage their own government yield a substantial part of this right to a single person, who is not even necessarily a resident of the town? Removing power from volunteer boards and committees reduces the value of serving on such a committee and will discourage citizen participation. Why would someone volunteer their time to basically act in a supporting role for someone who is earning $200,000 a year, the approximate salary proposed to be paid to our town manager?

From my perspective, it appears that petty and transient problems with certain individuals or boards have been the prime motivator of those who seek a change. I believe that petty and transient problems are inherent in a democratic government and that such inefficiency is a small price to pay for our existing right of self-governance. I hope that you will join me on March 15in voting no on the special act.

Very truly yours,
Thomas Frisardi
86 Forest Street

 

Editor’s note: Mr. Frisardi currently serves as Chair of Advisory Committee and previously served on the Planning Board.