Town Manager: Pro & Con

Yes to town manager switch:

Manager: Path to future

Alexa Lewis, Contributor

The town of Charlotte has been asked by its citizens to consider a change to a town manager form of government. It will be on the ballot in the next town meeting.

What does the change mean? Charlotte depends on the volunteerism of its townspeople and elected officials to keep the town running and provide services. We love this, but need to acknowledge that these volunteers may not have the time, or the expertise needed in today’s busy and complex world. A town manager is a trained, experienced professional that can bring specialized skill sets including:

  • leadership
  • financial strength
  • human resource management
  • knowledge of legal issues affecting town government
  • communication skills
  • administrative experience.

Hiring the right manager will take time and a deliberative search for an experienced, competent professional. We might not get it right the first time, but of the approximately 50 Vermont towns that have made the switch, most would agree it’s worth it.

An elected official in Norwich made this comment when asked about their change: “One of the most important roles the manager fills is to help the selectboard make better decisions — that is, to make it a better representative body.”

He added, “The manager in that sense acts as an adviser and researcher. He calls other towns and talks to other managers, not only in Vermont but around the country, and asks them how this problem or that has been resolved. Because, you know, there’s nothing that any town does that hasn’t been done by many other towns. You’ve just got to find out how they did it. So, you want someone who can do the research, offer the advice, who knows the statutes and can keep the board out of trouble.”

If the change to a town manager structure is done correctly, then the selectboard looks akin to a board of directors in the corporate world. They take on policy issues and long-term planning. The town manager has been likened to a CEO or COO, responsible for day-to-day operations and the execution of the board’s policies. The manager keeps abreast of current issues and advises the board. Elected officials would round out the “C-suite” in corporate parlance and, when the structure is working cooperatively, it produces a positive outcome for the staff and the town. The residents benefit and they feel heard.

The town needs help with its budgeting process. Charlotte does not yet have a capital budget or plan. It does not have any “rainy day reserves” to protect us from unforeseen emergencies or to smooth variations in year-to-year budget changes. If you have the time to watch a selectboard meeting with a town manager structure, I recommend you look at Hinesburg or Shelburne’s December meeting as they finalize their budgets — Hinesburg and Shelburne.

Their town managers have a seat at the table and present an overview of the budget with key changes, the reasons behind them and the impact of budget-related articles on the tax rates. The budget process was efficient and forward-looking. We need that.

Our town has more on its plate; the fate of Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue is still pending; and we need to make progress on the goals laid out in the town plan. A town manager will position us well to do this. Let’s make the change to a more effective and efficient form of governance. The path to the future starts with a “Yes” vote on March 5.

No to town manager switch

Administrator system seems to work for selectboard

Dennis Delaney, Contributor

Peter Joslin is a hard-working Charlotter, a model for us all. In the last edition of The Charlotte News, however, he got careless with his facts. He likes to talk about how great everything will be in town once we are run by a town manager. Management labors are now done by our town administrator. They get the white flag from our elected, five-person selectboard.

Joslin is also one of the partisans in town who think the elected board works too hard. Let’s have a hired manager, well paid, who will take over in large part for the public service of the elected selectboard. Let them go off and think.

To get to hiring a town manager, we are assured by Joslin, the selectboard held several public hearings to vet the town’s thoughts on a hired manager. Well, maybe those hearings were public but there is another word I’d use — lonely. I was at many of those hearings and very, very few of the town’s 3,339 voters, the decisionmakers in the March election, showed up.

Joslin would also have us believe that our selectboard is ready to drop from overwork, that it “has a great deal on its plate” and “is mired in the weeds.” Well, if it’s true that our board members are at death’s door from overwork, why did all five board members respond to the hearings with a resounding and unanimous “no” to hiring a town manager? Joslin doesn’t tell us.

To arrive at a decision on a town manager for Charlotte, we Charlotters need several discussions, open and honest and accurate on this question. Without that, we fail.