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The Argument: Should Wellesley create the position of town manager?

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Should Wellesley create the position of town manager?

YES

David Murphy

Chairman of the Wellesley Board of Selectmen

David Murphy
David Murphyhandout

Wellesley is ready for a town manager. Our municipal government over the years has grown in size, scope, and complexity. The need for a town manager has increased with it. The proposed change will bring professional, more centralized, and effective management to meet the needs of the town's growing workforce and operations.

In our current governmental structure, department heads are appointed and managed individually by numerous volunteer boards and committees. The result is a lack of cohesive direction and accountability for the provision of town services to our local residents. There is no one with a townwide view of human resources practices.

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Moreover, there is no one in a leadership role to ensure that staff work is aligned with our town goals and directed at improving customer service. The town's annual budget now exceeds $150 million. Wellesley needs a town manager with the municipal finance management skills and authority to assemble and balance the town's budget, undertake long-range financial planning, and assure that our resources are directed efficiently toward advancing the town's priorities. We owe this to the residents of Wellesley.

The recommendation to create the town manager position is the result of an 18-month, well-vetted, transparent, and extraordinarily participative process that included more than 50 interviews and 50 public sessions during which the needs of the town and appropriate options were evaluated.

The proposal was brought to Town Meeting, which extensively discussed, debated, and amended these plans over nine evening sessions. A Town Meeting majority voted to approve the filing of the special legislation and all of the accompanying bylaws. The special legislation was then approved by both the Massachusetts House and Senate, and signed by Governor Charles Baker.

Finally, it is important to understand that having a town manager does not reduce volunteer involvement in town government nor undermine the critical policy-setting role of our municipal boards and committees. If anything, it places more reasonable demands on those who are generously willing to serve.

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The time for this change is now — to address the town's needs for the future and ensure the continued delivery of quality services.

NO

Don McCauley

Wellesley resident, former member of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and the Advisory Committee

Don McCauley
Don McCauleyhandout

Massachusetts permits a dizzying array of municipal structures with differing allocation of responsibilities among administrators, boards, staff, and citizens. No size fits all. There are probably 351 varieties, in a state with that many cities and towns. The task is to use the alternatives to make improvements and maintain strengths.

As a starting point, our town government in Wellesley works. Notably, we have been able to accomplish significant improvements, in particular creating a Facilities Maintenance Department and funding our retiree benefit liabilities, through the leadership of our existing executive director.

In 2014, Town Meeting authorized a Town Government Study Committee to review Wellesley's government. This is a good practice and has been done before. The committee returned this fall with a sweeping proposal to concentrate power in a town manager to better coordinate the town's government. But after only several weeks of public review this proposal was approved by a deeply divided Town Meeting and is now before Wellesley's voters.

Alternatives were not presented. Could the Human Resources Department adopt policies to address personnel issues without a town manager? Could budgeting improvements be made without a town manager? Could the executive director be retitled town administrator without a special act? The answer to all three is yes, but these alternatives were not put forward.

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Instead, centralized administration is embraced. The message is that all bodies in town must be subordinate to the town manager to improve efficiency and make government more businesslike.

But the collateral damage would be extensive. The remarkable level of citizen involvement that has and continues to shape the town would be diminished. The committee did not find that our town boards do not perform their missions well. Nonetheless, they will lose their ability to set their own budget priorities and hire their own directors.

This is a terrible case of "in-the-box" thinking that misses opportunities for improvement and jeopardizes the essential character of the town. We have issues, but we need to continue to face them with a collaborative structure that recognizes we are a community with multiple voices and talents, and reject the town manager structure as the town has rejected it before.

Last week's poll: Should Arlington adopt further controls on the size of new homes or additions?

Yes: 68.4% (186 votes)

No: 32.6% (86 votes)


As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.