Let us hear from you — town manager or town administrator?

On Town Meeting Day, March 5, this article will be placed before the voters:

“Shall the town submit to the General Assembly of the State of Vermont a proposal to adopt a municipal charter containing the following: Section 3: Town Manager/Road Commissioner. The Town shall have a Town Manager form of governance per Title 24, Chapter 37, with the Town Manager’s duties per 24 V.S.A § 1236, except for the duties of the Road Commissioner, which shall continue to be performed by an elected Road Commissioner.”

As reported in this newspaper, the town manager issue has been discussed at several selectboard meetings, and, no doubt, by many Charlotters chatting with friends, colleagues and neighbors. It is a vitally important issue for the town, but we know little about whether this community is in favor or against, undecided or looking for more information.

To learn more about voter sentiment, we have created a short survey.

Here are the main features of each system of government. Much of this information came from Lee Krohn’s July 18, 2023, report, “Town of Charlotte: The matter of a town administrator or town manager.”

Town administrator (current model):

  • The selectboard retains almost all decision-making authority which often leads to lengthy meetings and extended discussions around minor issues.
  • The town administrator’s responsibilities are not defined in Vermont law and the selectboard has flexibility in deciding which responsibilities to delegate to the town administrator.
  • Because they are involved in so many matters, the Charlotte selectboard feels that they are in touch with voter sentiment.
  • However, strategic, public policy issues that will affect the future of Charlotte may not get the attention they need because the selectboard’s time and energy are focused on short-term, tactical decisions.
  • By attending selectboard meetings, town residents are able to discuss issues that concern them with the selectboard.

Town manager (proposed model):

  • The town manager carries out the policies of the selectboard and provides recommendations to the selectboard on the formation of policy.
  • The position of town manager is referenced in statute (Title 24, Chapter 37. “Town, City and Village Managers”).
  • Town managers have greater responsibility and authority to supervise employees and departments, manage budgets and finances and handle other duties as required.
  • Town managers make decisions based on town policies or rules that are in place.
  • There could be less citizen access to the selectboard, and some may feel less well informed about community concerns; yet residents are still able to attend selectboard meetings and bring issues that concern them before the selectboard.

For Charlotte, in addition to the town administrator-town manager question, a charter change is required to ensure that the present arrangement with an elected road commissioner remains in place.

Many Vermont municipalities, including Shelburne and Hinesburg, have chosen to operate under the town manager model; many others, including Cambridge and Johnson, employ town administrators. There are no obvious patterns at play here, and town population isn’t a factor in each town’s system of government.

It’s important to see this issue in a broader context. Krohn wrote, “Transitions are good times to reexamine systems, whether in the public or private sectors, to consider how we conduct our business, and whether we’re doing it as well as we can. It’s not criticism of persons or processes; rather, it’s just the opportunity to take a step back to look at the big picture, separate from the constant press of day-to-day issues.”

Importantly, under either model, clear communication among all parties is key to good governance.
Want to learn more and ask questions?

The selectboard has scheduled two public hearings on the town manager issue. The first is on Tuesday, Jan. 30, the second on Monday, Feb. 5. Both meetings will be held at town hall and start at 6:30 p.m.

(John Quinney is publisher of The Charlotte News and chair of the board of directors. The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the newspaper nor the board. Neither the newspaper or the board have taken a position on the town manager-town administrator question.)