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A way to manage Northfield

A stronger town administrator — in essence, a town manager — may be the prescription for what ails Northfield.

That was the advice offered to residents through an outside panel brought to town by the Town Governance Study Committee, the group charged with examining town government and possible changes.

What residents heard Friday was just a part of the committee’s effort — an updated job description for the Northfield administrator’s position — with a full report and recommendations expected later this year.

The committee sees that Northfield’s interests would be best served by providing the town administrator with more independence and power than now exists with the job. Part of the evolution of the job would be in taking on a more supervisory role with department heads, something that is now in the hands of the three selectmen. Another part would be having the background and experience in getting grants for the town.

And, of course, it is thought that changes could produce better communication within town government as well as between the town and community.

“I think we’ve found a good balance between over-centralized government, where everything falls on one person, or something so decentralized that it all falls on the volunteer Selectboard,” Christina Guertin, a committee member said.

This idea of going to a stronger town administrator seems to make sense, given what Northfield has been going through, what with six administrators in four years. As Jack Spanbauer, chairman of the Selectboard also pointed out, having such an individual in place might help with retaining other professionals working for the town, such as police chief.

A strong town administrator also was a change that members of the outside panel thought could work to Northfield’s advantage. But that panel also helped raise an important key to this equation, that has to happen for this and any change to succeed — getting the community to buy in to the recommendations. This is true whether for this change in the job description or any of the steps that may come out of the committee’s work.

We don’t see this as being a tough sell. But what the community has to realize is that only with its support will the situation improve. That shouldn’t be a tough sell either.

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