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  • Stephanie Boyd

who is running the show?

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

You may have heard about our Town's Charter Review that is currently underway. A committee of civically engaged people are reviewing the Town's Charter and other processes that are related to how we make decisions and govern our Town. The review committee is looking at our Town's governance structure, analyzing its effectiveness and making recommendation for change.

Some background

The Town Charter was adopted in 1956 and hasn't been updated since that time, so we are probably overdue. Besides including some outdated language like "Selectmen" when today we typically say, "Select Board", it describes which committees are elected, the powers of the School Committee and Fire District and Town Manager, etc.

Town Structure

Williamstown has an "Open Town Meeting" form of government, rather than a "Representative Town Meeting". That means each of us has the opportunity to vote on important issues like the budget, zoning bylaws, capital investments in schools and other Town properties, and citizen's petitions.

Most Towns (253) in Massachusetts have an open Town meeting form of government, fewer than 50 have opted for representative town meeting.

"The modest parameters established by the state’s constitution initially in 1821, and modified to include the limited town meeting option in 1920, are as follows:

  • Towns above 12,000 population may adopt a city form of government,

  • Towns above 6,000 population may adopt a limited (representative) town meeting form of government, and

  • Towns below 6,000 population must operate with an open town meeting." Source: MUNICIPAL ADVOCATE Vol. 22, No. 2

Being able to personally vote on Town budgets and other issues is the most direct form of democracy but carries with it a huge responsibility. We, collectively, make decisions that impact the lives of our neighbors and the future of our Town.

The Town Manager

The Town Manager, appointed by the Select Board, is responsible for the day to day management of Town affairs, they "supervise and direct the administration of all departments, commissions, boards and offices of the town, except those elected by the voters, or appointed by the Selectmen or by the Moderator." The Town Structure document elaborates on the Charter by noting: "The Williamstown Charter establishes a strong Town Manager form of government, and gives the Town Manager control over the appointment of officers for the town as well as their removal and over all the general financial affairs of the town, but clearly anticipates a close working relationship between the Town Manager and the Selectmen in the sense that the Town Manager will give the necessary information for the Selectmen to evaluate the Town Manager’s performance in that office."

Should we change?

The Charter Review Committee is considering a number of questions related to how our Town is managed, some of it outside the scope of the Charter itself. A sample of questions the committee is considering is listed below. More information is available here.

  1. Should we consider changing to Representative Town Meeting?

  2. Does our administrative structure function as desired, with Town Manager responsible for operations?

  3. Should municipal elections be held before or after town meeting?

  4. Would multiple Town Meetings serve our needs better? or different days?

  5. Should we add a recall provision?

  6. Should we make any change in whether offices are filled by election versus appointment? For example Planning Board was an appointed committee and is now elected.

  7. Does Ranked Choice Voting make sense in our municipal elections?

  8. Should we make any changes to length of terms or impose term limits on committees?

  9. Can and should we make any changes around filing of citizens petitions?

  10. What improvements can be made to the budget and finance process?

  11. Can we make Town meeting more attractive to attendees by changing the format?

  12. Should we try electronic voting at Town meeting to make the voting go faster, more accurately and confidentially?

  13. How can we use technology and the website to increase communication and efficiency?

  14. Should we develop standard procedures for running board meetings?

  15. Should we document better the process for filling committee vacancies?

Your turn

The Charter Review Committee is in the process of conducting a survey. A paper version will be sent out soon if it hasn't already. An online version is live now. Check it out!

So who is running the show? We all are. Get involved!

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Mar 26, 2023

My view - - the town meeting should be as available to one and all as possible - that means time of the meeting, location, accommodations for any that need them (hard of hearing? special seating for those needing, transportation to and from, and so on). Beyond that I value an in place meeting where in full discussion and voting are by the normal means - raised hands, or raising a validated placard to verify that status of the voters. When we enter that place we are no longer just Williamstown residents, we are citizens of this town. As such we need all the voices and robust at that. Fearfulnes inspeak or casting a public vote is fine for other…

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