With Wellesley’s Special Town Meeting set to start on Monday, Nov. 2, those with strong feelings about the Town Government Study Committee recommendations have begun raising their voices. The Board of Selectmen this week re-asserted its support for the headlining recommendation — establishment of a Town Manager position. Those with qualms about the plan, including the Natural Resources Commission, have been on the outreach program this week to make their views more widely known.
And now we’ve received a letter from three prominent townspeople who are urging Town Meeting members to push off voting on the TGSC proposals so that further discussion can be had.
Dear Town Meeting Members:
We are planning to make a motion at Town Meeting to postpone voting on the recommendations of the Town Government Study Committee (TGSC). Never before have we been asked to vote on such momentous proposals with so little time to fully review and discuss them. We believe additional time is warranted to reflect upon the TGSC recommendations and to be confident that we really understand their full implications. Final action should be put off to a future town meeting, when we can be confident we understand the proposals and that the legislative documents reflect our intentions.
Here are the reasons why we believe that postponement of final voting would be helpful:
- There has been no opportunity for Town Meeting to discuss TGSC’s proposed restructuring conceptually or to examine its underlying assumptions. What weaknesses within town government are we trying to address? How much authority should rest in one individual or any elected board? What types of checks and balances are needed? What is gained and lost when elected boards are eliminated or become strictly policy setting entities?
- The TGSC continues to make changes to the proposed structure, creating confusion about what is being recommended and the underlying principles guiding its proposals. The TGSC has made many changes since its September 8 memos, and it has issued an overwhelming amount of materials for Town Meeting members, some as recently as 2 days ago. It is unclear how many of us can absorb all this information in the time frame given.
- There are critical elements in the recommendation that have never been discussed. For example, under Massachusetts law, the Town Manager is exempt from the Open Meeting Law.
- There are likely to be many competing amendments made on the floor of town meeting. Designing the future structure of town government should not take place on Town Meeting floor, as it greatly increases the chances of creating a flawed work product.
- The Town may not attract qualified town manager candidates if the position is enacted over the objections of important constituencies. The TGSC urges creation of a town manager form of government now to attract the most qualified people for the position. If our new form of government passes without the support of the elected boards or the broad support of Town Meeting, or has internal inconsistencies due to hasty drafting, the most qualified people may not apply for the position.
- We should not be rushed to a decision by the impending retirement of the Executive Director. If he cannot extend his tenure, there are other solutions, including the Massachusetts Municipal Association that helps pair experienced semi-retired managers with towns needing short-term coverage through its Interim Management Services program.
With time and dialogue, we think that an agreement will develop and Town Meeting will give its strong support. But we are not there yet. We ask you to join us to allow for a more deliberative review. A decision of this importance deserves time for thoughtful dialogue and the formation of a broad consensus.
David Himmelberger, Former Chair of the Selectmen, Former Advisory Committee Member, Town Meeting Member, Precinct H
Suzanne Littlefield, Former Chair of the School Committee, Former Advisory Committee Member, Present Member of the PBC, Town Meeting Member, Precinct A
Heather Sawitsky, Former Town Moderator, Former Chair of the Advisory Committee, Town Meeting Member, Precinct H
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