Town Meeting Is Everyone’s Job

Let me start by confessing that I am not a “townie.” Many of you reading this article might snicker and say to yourself “Well, I am,” or “Same for me.” Mattapoisett, like nearly every other location you could think of in the U. S. of A., has become a melting pot just like our great country.

“This Mattapoisett Life” is the first in an occasional series I’ll be sharing with you on stuff that strikes me as interesting, funny, or some how significant. Hitting on at least two of those three, let’s look at our town government.

How I love America and Mattapoisett. I am not widely traveled (although I got around a bit, especially in the Seventies), but one thing I know for sure: Few other nations on our tiny planet are as special. I’m guessing you’d agree. And so I thought it might be interesting to explore one of the compelling aspects living in America bestows upon us: our democratic government.

When I first began writing for The Wanderer, I quickly learned that covering the local government meetings was not going to be easy. First and foremost, I was not familiar with and had never met most of the board and committee members. I was not familiar with the residents who attended hearings with these decision makers. I am not a townie. But even more glaring was my nearly total ignorance on how town government worked. Being no spring chicken, as it were, I decided it was about time to embrace being an adult and gain an understanding of town government’s role in our everyday living.

Here goes. Buckle up your seat belt: There are curves ahead as we thunder through Town Hall. First and foremost, our Board of Selectmen establishes policies that fan out to every segment of the town, from the police and fire departments to the Board of Health, Water and Sewer, dog officer, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, schools, planning, cemeteries, and any other area that touches our lives on this side of the grass and otherwise here in Mattapoisett.

From our town’s website we learn:

The Board of Selectmen is a three-member elected board that serves as the town’s executive branch of government. The board is responsible for general policy oversight of all town functions with particular attention to the town’s fiscal, managerial, and personnel direction. The Board’s authority includes appointment of the town administrator, police chief and officers, fire chief, harbormaster, senior department heads, and many boards and committees. The Board of Selectmen also issues various licenses and permits.

We have a three-member executive board. The Board of Selectmen is currently served by: Jordan C. Collyer (chair), Paul A. Silva (clerk) and R. Tyler Macallister (vice chair). We the people hire these citizens by way of election to handle the business of operating our town.

Yet unlike other types of municipalities whose populations and geography require full-time oversight, our Selectmen work for us part-time.

The Town Administrator however, is hired by the Selectmen to work executively for the town, handling the town’s day-to-day business needs. Selectmen will be residents of the town. The Administrator is an employee who may live in another community. Our Town Administrator is Michael Gagne. Gagne is the Chief Administration Officer. The Selectmen are the Chief Executive Officers.

The Town Administrator, as described on our town’s website, provides general administration of the day-to-day affairs of the town and serves to forward the goals and objectives set by the Board of Selectmen. The Town Administrator works under the policy direction of the Board of Selectmen and serves as the town’s chief operating officer, chief financial officer, personnel director and chief procurement officer. The Town Administrator’s office is available to citizens to assist in dealing with any general business issues.

Gagne has the responsibilities of working closely with each and every department, board, commission, and committee in town. Throughout the year and leading up to Town Meeting, he is preparing along with department heads and all the other functional areas, the Warrant and articles therein.

The Annual Town Meeting takes place each spring, this year starting on May 13. It is during this wonderfully American process that voters in the town get to decide how their tax money will be spent. It is a consensus process.

Starting in January, Gagne meets regularly with the Finance Committee and all of the department heads and other town entities to begin crafting the articles for the warrant that will be presented to the voters during the annual Town Meeting.

Finance Committee meetings handle the painstaking process of preparing the warrant articles and balancing the budget. To that end, department heads are asked to attend these meetings to help craft their specific financial needs. The Capital Improvement Committee will also met with the Finance Committee and the Administrator for large-ticket items. Those items or needs will have a price tag of $10,000 or greater and an expected lifespan of at least five years. By April, the process is in the fine-tuning stages. The Annual Town meeting is the time for the voters to set the budget for the fiscal year.

Any other items that the voters need to decide upon will fall to Special Town Meetings and will not be covered at the Annual Town Meeting, which again, is primarily geared to setting the budget.

Voters can petition the Board of Selectmen to include articles in the warrant. Ten registered voters are required for this process.

“Democracy is not an armchair activity,” Gagne told me, paraphrasing “Democracy is not a spectator sport” as said by Marian Wright Edelman, African-American lawyer and children’s rights leader. Our democratic society’s strength comes from our participation. It is a right, a privilege, and a responsibility we can and should all share in.

Attending Town Meeting might not be top on our hit parade of ways to spend a beautiful spring evening. But when it involves the ways our hard earned tax dollars will be spent, shouldn’t we be there? That goes for Marion and Rochester residents, too, whose Town Meetings start on May 13 and May 20, respectively.

By Marilou Newell

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