With change coming, is it time for a new approach?
Feb 02, 2017 | 2806 views | 0 0 comments | 263 263 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A recent conversation with a Wilmington business owner about the future of the town’s form of government prompted some thoughts on the issue. Currently Wilmington’s town business is governed by an elected selectboard and run by a hired town manager. The current town manager has tendered his resignation, as reported here two weeks ago, and is planning to leave the job when his current contract expires in 2018.

With the resignation of the town manager, this person questioned the need to replace the person in the corner office with another town manager. The feeling was a town administrator could adequately fill the role, and have considerably less power in running the town’s day-to-day operations. Needless to say, some of that work would have to be picked up by others, in particular the selectboard and hired staff. Again, this person felt strongly the work could be done by others and replacing the manager wasn’t necessary.

Which brings us to the question: Are there others out there who feel the same way? It seems that if that were the case, this would be the appropriate time for a discussion about the position.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time voters in Wilmington were asked to choose their form of town government. It has happened a number of times over the years, most recently about a decade ago. The interesting thing is, voters have consistently reaffirmed the town manager form of government. Despite those affirming votes, the question continues to come up about once a decade or so.

Since a change is about to occur, taxpayers and voters might want their leaders to consider something different. At least, it could be time to again make the case for why continuing with a town manager is the right course of action. That might lead to some interesting discussion. There are certainly other ways to approach running a town: mayor, administrator, administrative assistant, etc. Times of change can create opportunity.

Of course, this could also be a case of be careful what you wish for. As is often the situation with a sweeping change of government, there can be unintended consequences. Much of that would depend on what form of town government replaced the manager. A town administrator would be similar to a manager style of government, but with reduced powers for the administrator. A mayoral form of government would give more powers to a mayor and reduce the selectboard’s say in running the town.

Maybe that’s what Wilmington really needs: a mayor. Someone who could be voted on every two years, and be held accountable for their actions. Now that would really be a dramatic change for those who want to shake things up. It could also leads to dramatic swings in policy, especially if there was constant turnover in the position.

We can’t say that any of this is more than a theoretical exercise at this point. While there are some grumblings about the town manager form of government, no one has brought forward any petition for a vote to replace it, and there doesn’t appear to be much of a groundswell for the idea.

Also, considering that Wilmington voters have repeatedly supported the town manager form of government, maybe this is all much ado about nothing. But that doesn’t mean voters and leaders shouldn’t at least consider their options. That is perfectly appropriate, and the answer may be the same as it has been over the past five decades.

Voters, taxpayers, and town officials should be asking themselves if there is a better way to run the town. If that answer is yes, then the time for action is now. If the answer is no, then that desk in the corner office won’t stay vacant for long.
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