Editorial: Tweaking government

A change in government — that’s what is on the Greenfield Town Council’s plate.

Before those folks who want a return to selectmen and council form of government get too excited, the changes being considered have more to do with how the community elects people to the various positions — mayor, council and School Committee — and how long those office terms should be.

What started out as a set of recommendations from Town Clerk Maureen Winseck’s office, made its way through the council’s Appointments and Ordinances Committee and is now scheduled for a full council discussion on Wednesday is a straightforward proposition: Change Greenfield’s elections from an annual affair to once every two years, while moving the date from June to November. And elect the mayor, Town Council and School Committee to four-year terms.

While we know that change is hard, the reasoning behind these proposed changes is worth considering. And that begins with taking into account the shift in our lives and the interest (or availability) of residents to run for elected office.

The addition of a year between town elections may be the kind of time needed to generate more interest in serving Greenfield in some elected capacity, including creating more competition when it comes to particular seats.

Given, too, that under the Greenfield Charter a preliminary election is part of the process, going to a biennial schedule would provide the community with a little bit of election relief. That’s something we think people would welcome, especially now since at some level — especially with presidential campaigns — the election cycle seems nonstop.

Along with giving people a breather, going to every other year for elections would save money, roughly some $30,000 for a local election.

Changing the date from June to November also makes sense, since the existing election schedule is a vestige of a long-ago time when town meetings were the norm. Since Greenfield has had a representative town government for decades, it makes sense to have the vote line up with the election date that’s used on the state and federal level.

A side benefit will be that the fiscal year won’t create issues for the boards. As it now stands, new councilors or school board members are sometimes voting on issues in the new budget year while having to play catchup on the issue. This change will allow for more of a flow and connection on end of the fiscal year votes.

Length of term

If there seems to be significant differences of opinion in the proposal, it’s with the length of terms. The town clerk’s office is suggesting four-year terms for mayor, councilors and School Committee members while there are others who think that two years is a better fit.

We think four years is better. First it eliminates the mindset of having to run for office just after you’ve arrived. Also, a four-year term provides more time to see projects through without the distraction of running for re-election. In our way of thinking, a four-year term provides the continuity that Greenfield should have in its community leadership.

We’ll see what direction the council decides to go.

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