Commentary: Consider whether Charlotte has proper governing structure

On March 5, 2024, Charlotters will take to the polls to make an important, informed decision about the future: whether or not to switch to a town manager from a town administrator.

Beginning this past spring and into summer, the selectboard held public hearings to assess the pros and cons of a town administrator or town manager. This included hiring a consultant for background research. At the conclusion of about six months of review, the selectboard unanimously opposed changing to a town manager.

The selectboard consists of five individuals, who, other than a very modest stipend, are volunteers. They volunteer to govern our town. They volunteer to make decisions, take the heat and receive the occasional kudo. Their expertise and backgrounds are diverse. Some are retired, some not. Some work locally, some not.

We want them to succeed. If they are effective and make informed decisions, it follows that the town will be healthy with steady hands at the tiller. Not all decisions will be the right ones, they never are. What matters most is making them! Good governance points to a vibrant, healthy town with a roadmap to the future, one that provides opportunities for the next generation to share this beautiful, bucolic little town of ours.

At the recent send-off party for Dean Bloch and the welcoming of Nate Bareham, our new town administrator, I spoke to a number of folks about the future and the increasingly complex nature of local governance. The expertise and experience necessary to create the budget, plan a long-range capital budget, manage human resources, health benefits, and the municipal responsibilities including, roads and fire and rescue, are myriad. As much as one might crave the good old days, they are no more.

Challenges with the town budget is a recent example of the complexities faced by the selectboard and the town. The selectboard, after a failed first vote last year, committed to reduce the medical benefits for town employees by $20,000 for fiscal year 2024. They formed a subcommittee to find these savings, and after its conclusion, the recommendation was to hire a consultant to research the town’s health benefits. At its last special meeting on the subject, Jim Faulkner said it was too late to make cuts, they would have to “kick the can down the road” and work on the issue for the next fiscal year. Neither the selectboard nor the public were satisfied.

The selectboard has a great deal on its plate and is, more times than not, mired in the weeds. So, how might the town support them in making informed, timely decisions? I think a step in the right direction is a town manager, someone who is given the appropriate legal authority to make the day-to-day decisions and provide the necessary expertise to the selectboard so they can focus on major issues and the future.

The town manager would not be a barrier between voters and elected officials, as some have suggested, but rather a person who is available to listen, expedite and oversee routine town business.

Think about where we are as a town now, where you think we should be, and ask yourself whether or not the proper governance structure is in place to meet the goals and challenges of the future.