30% opposed; 26% undecided or need more information
The results are in. The Charlotte News survey finds that 44 percent of the people surveyed are in favor of a town manager model. Thirty percent want to stick with the current town administrator model, but equally important, 26 percent are undecided or need more information. The question will go to the voters on March 5.
The 277 responses show how important this question is to Charlotte residents and give us high confidence in the survey results. We are grateful that so many people took the time to complete the survey. In addition, over 200 people went the extra mile to explain the reasons behind their choices — thank you!
We read all the comments, grouped like ones together and counted how many individual comments fell into each group. The six groups with the most comments are summarized below; the number of comments in the subsequent groups dropped off dramatically.
The largest group of comments by far centered around wanting the selectboard to spend more time on strategic decision making and less on routine administrative matters and what many respondents termed “minutia.”
Charlotters who said they were undecided or wanted to learn more provided the second-largest number of written comments. Many were unclear on the practical differences between the town administrator and town manager models, including any effect on the town’s budget.
The third biggest group of comments included the belief that a town manager would result in more efficient government. There was a lot of overlap between this group and the largest one expressing a desire for the selectboard to be more strategic. Many in this third group thought the selectboard would be a more efficient decision-making body if a town manager handled much of the day-to-day, lower-level decision making.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” summarizes the fourth largest number of comments. These respondents argued that the current system works well and that the argument for change has not been made convincingly.
The fifth group expressed concerns that a town manager would result in less government transparency and personal access to the selectboard. These residents also voiced concern that a town manager would have too much authority.
The sixth largest group argued that town government is getting too complex for the town administrator and selectboard operating as they do now. “Complexity” was the key word that surfaced repeatedly in these comments, setting them apart from other write-ins about the need for greater government efficiency and better decision making.
The Charlotte News launched this survey to help inform residents and town officials in the run-up to Town Meeting Day. We hope that the pro and con camps will benefit from seeing how their messages are resonating with Charlotters and that, in advance of the vote on March 5, they will work to meet the clear interest in more information.
(Bill Regan is a member of The Charlotte News board of directors. This article captures the survey results as the paper received them, but offers no substantive conclusions about the merits of either town government model. Neither the newspaper nor the board have taken a position on the town manager-town administrator question.)