Running a Tight Ship

Mattapoisett – what’s not to love! We have farmlands, woodlands, swamps, a harbor, beaches, a bike path and pastures. Route 6 is dotted with businesses whose products and services we want and need. We have good schools and wonderful teachers. Lovely churches with large congregations welcome all. North Street is a scenic by-way. Our village can boast of its antique homes and pleasant walking venues. Our wooded areas are bucolic. In a single day you could go for a swim, ride a horse, visit a museum, shop for a special gift, go bowling, eat a great meal and watch a glorious sunset. Few of my ancestors, although not from here, chose Mattapoisett as their final resting place. My maternal great-grandparents and maternal grandmother (Mary Ransom Billard and her parents, Charles and Emma Ransom) are buried in Cushing Cemetery.

It should come as no surprise then, that it takes a crew of dedicated people to run a tight ship, to insure that our lives are safe, comfortable and in harmonious rhythm with everything this wonderful seaside community has to offer. Let’s look at who is running the ship.

THE DEPARTMENTS: There are, of course, the obvious “crewmembers”: Police and Fire. The Board of Selectmen has the responsibility for hiring the chiefs for these noble positions. It is no small task to find qualified leaders whose chosen profession requires technical expertise, personnel management, equipment operation and maintenance geared to the functions they perform (weapons, vehicles and fire suppression devices), as well as legal know-how, lifesaving skills and business management capabilities. Three cheers for our PD and FD – employees and volunteers.

Situated within the walls of Town Hall, that precious little building, is probably the undisputed busiest department, an office that handles documents from birth to death and everything in-between, the Town Clerk’s Office. Barbara Sullivan and her assistant, Theresa Gomes, are the go-to people whether you need to register your boat, license your dog, discuss town maps or get a copy of the town’s bylaws. When you don’t know with whom you need to speak, the Town Clerk’s Office can direct you.

There are also the executive administrative assistants and secretaries from the Town Administrator and Selectmen Office to the Conservation Commission and Building Inspector, as well as many others whose hard work supports the infrastructure of the town.

Other Departments serving the residents are: Animal Control/Shellfish Warden, Assessors, Building Inspectors, Council on Aging, Harbormaster, Highway Department, Public Health Nurse, Library, Recreation, Town Accountant, Town Administrator, Treasurer/Tax Collector, Tree Warden, Veterans’ Office, and Water & Sewer.

Some of the people who work in these various departments are hired employees, some are elected by majority vote and still others are appointed by the Selectmen.

For instance, the Tree Warden is an elected position, but the building inspectors are hired employees. The elected positions are: Selectmen, Town Clerk, Town Moderator, Board of Assessors, Highway Surveyor, Constables, Board of Health, Herring Inspector, Housing Authority, Library Trustees, ORR District School Committee, Planning Board, Mattapoisett School Committee, Tree Warden, Water & Sewer Commissioners and Community Preservation Committee.

BOARDS/COMMITTEES/COMMISSIONS: Now let’s take a look at the Boards, Committees and Commissions formed to handle varied and sometimes complicated functional areas. One note on the naming convention used for these groups; I recently asked Michael Gagne, Town Administrator, if there was some reason these critical entities bore different titles; his response in a word – “No.” So now that that is established, let’s check them out.

The Finance Committee (Fin Com) manages in coordination and cooperation with town departments the financial needs of the town. Fiduciary review entails in-depth analysis of individual departmental budgets, expenditures, purchases, salaries and future needs. Preceding Town Meeting, the Committee meets with each department head to hear their requests and to prioritize the needs while being mindful of incoming revenue. The totality of the task can’t be overstated. But in order to craft a well-managed and balanced budget, departmental input is essential. So is well-reasoned and knowledgeable planning based on economic rational.

Our Conservation Commission (Con Com) as described on the town’s website is charged with the responsibility of administering the State Wetlands Protection Act at the municipal level. Functions include: Site reviews, Informal Project Reviews, Determination of Applicability, Orders of Condition. Let’s say you want to put an in-ground pool on your property or make any type of modification to you home or plot; you’ll need to have your plans reviewed by the Commission to insure you are in compliance with those rules and regulations this group oversees on behalf of the town. The Conservation Agent is part of this commission.

Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has considerable responsibility in determining just what sorts of buildings and changes may be made to structures or property in town. As described on the town website, we find: ZBA interprets and enforces the Zoning Bylaws on a case-by-case basis and has the power to decide each petition for – appealing decisions made by the Building Inspector, granting special use permits (such as the industrial solar farm which recently passed their review), variances or deviations from established regulations, and permits under Chapter 40B of the State General Laws.

The Board is comprised of five regular members and five associate members all appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The Building Inspector works with the ZBA in an advisory capacity.

Then there is the Planning Board. It’s important to note here that this board is presently and will over the course of the next six months or so be digging into substantive land use planning. This is in concert with reviewing the zoning bylaws for current accuracy, future needs and with SREPDD’s regional planning. It was recently noted by Grant King of SREPDD that the Governor’s office is fully engaged in the Southcoast Rail Plan this includes land use planning for the 27 cities and towns which are encompassed in the region. He cautioned, however, that when Patrick leaves the statehouse, the program might be subject to change.

In spite of any changes in the state’s administration, Mattapoisett’s Planning Board will be looking at all the geography in town with an eye towards rezoning and redevelopment opportunities. The drive is to find locations where businesses and revenue producing development could be reasonably situated in the town. Such changes would then be presented at Town Meeting for voters’ consideration. The Board needs the participation of the community at monthly meetings to ensure they are doing the work the larger community would find agreeable.

Rounding out the crew of men and women who help keep our town floating in smooth waters are members of: Recreation Committee, Commission of Disability, Marine Advisory Board, Bike Path Committee, Historical Commission, Capital Planning Committee, Mattapoisett Tree Committee, Mattapoisett River Valley Water District, Protection Advisory Committee and Mattapoisett Housing Partnership.

Getting involved in our local government is a right and a privilege. It is the backbone of our democratic society. As we remember and celebrate all those who have fought for our country and continue to keep our way of governing ourselves safe during Memorial Day celebrations, let’s also remember that our participation is critical. It is our collective responsibility.

One final note: there are open positions on some board and committees. Go to to find out if your skills and talents can help keep Mattapoisett on course; new crewmembers are needed.

By Marilou Newell

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