Northfield group researches governing models
NORTHFIELD — Should the town expand its Selectboard to five members? Should it bring in a town manager to help things run smoothly?
These are the questions a committee of concerned citizens seeks to answer.
The informal, non-governmental committee, which has met three times, has already done a lot of research on the subject.
Members plan to bring the matters to a town meeting vote, and have two ways to do so. They may bring plans to the Selectboard for approval, or get them onto a town meeting warrant by petition. Members agreed that Selectboard approval would be their desired route.
But for either article to pass at town meeting, they must first educate the public on the benefits of a strong town manager and a larger Selectboard.
That, they said, is the biggest hurdle. To attract qualified town manager candidates, the committee feels that a salary around $90,000 to $100,000 would be necessary. Members arrived at that number through talks with other towns that have town managers.
With the current town administrator’s salary set at $50,829, that extra pay could be a hard sell at town meeting, especially if voters are left wondering what that money will buy them.
An expanded selectboard would cost much less, requiring the town pay two more stipends, a total of $3,690 at current rates.
Either proposal, if approved by the town, must then go through the state Legislature before going into effect. This could take up to a year.
So far, committee members have postulated that a five-member board can work more efficiently, and can function more democratically than a three-member board, in which two members make a majority.
A strong town manager, they believe, can do much of the administrative and fact-gathering work for the Selectboard, so the members may focus their meetings on making decisions and setting policy.
The committee will continue to look into both matters, and decide which to bring up first. Would it be easier to have a five-member Selectboard once a town manager is in place, or vice versa? They intend to find out.
For research, a handful of committee members went to the town of Dalton, which has both a five-member board and a strong town manager, said committee member Sam Richardson.
They found that Dalton’s town manager, Kenneth Walto, relies on the town’s “General Code” to guide his actions.
The code is a compilation of the town’s policies and bylaws, something Northfield has been lacking, and created a Bylaws Committee to gather the decisions of town meetings, votes, and Selectboards, into a comprehensive document.
The citizens’ committee formed a subcommittee to examine Dalton’s general code, to see how sections may be adapted for Northfield, specifically the part that defines the town manager’s job.
Members will look into whether it would be best to draft that section of code before bringing in a town manager, or to have a town manager help develop the code that relates to the position.
Dalton’s general code may be viewed at www.dalton-ma.gov, under the publications section of the site.
The committee will invite Walto to speak at one of its meetings. Members will also seek out other towns with town managers or five-member selectboards, for their input.
The informal committee is open to all Northfield residents who are interested in exploring different forms of town government. To find out about meetings, contact Barb Richardson, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 413-498-5931. Meetings are also posted on the i-Neighbors community website.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279