Should Plymouth’s form of municipal government be changed?
Jam session is an opinion forum offering comments on issues from a group of Plymouth residents. It appears on the Forum pages in the Weekend edition of the OCM.
The newspaper poses a question to the group each week, and participants choose whether to comment. This column is designed to bring the voices of well-informed residents into the Forum page to address issues, one at a time.
Participants cross the local political spectrum and live throughout the town. Some are current or past Town Meeting representatives, and all are active in the community. We hope their diverse points of view will encourage discussion of the issues Plymouth faces.
This week's question
Has Plymouth's Town Meeting/Board of Selectmen form of government outlived its usefulness, and should it be replaced? Please explain.
As a member of the current Charter Review Committee I have been struck by the consensus of support for our present form of government voiced by volunteers working across the town. Our non-political professional town manager form, rather than a political mayor, enjoys widespread approval. And with charter reform over the past several years, Town Meeting is now at the top of its game and has become very efficient and productive. Excellent preparation and thorough vetting of issues prior to Town Meeting at precinct caucuses is now standard procedure, as is the robust debate of issues at town meetings. Some say our town budget has grown too big to be managed under our present form. That is not borne out by the facts. Plymouth enjoys a Double A-plus credit rating, one of the highest in the state. The mayoral form breeds cronyism and corruption, and excludes all but a few from participation in our government. A town-wide council in place of town meeting is not much better, as councilors wield concentrated legislative and executive powers with no checks or balances. Our present form of government is really the “sweet spot” – we have efficiency and accountability with maximum participation.
Bill Abbott is a lawyer with a general practice in Boston, and is past president of the Wildlands Trust and Six Ponds Association. He chaired the charter commission that wrote Plymouth’s current charter and chaired the Committee of Precinct Chairs from 2005 to June 2008. He has been a Town Meeting Member since 1974.
Town Meeting / select board has not outlived its usefulness. In a town as large and diverse as Plymouth, Town Meeting is the best way to insure that all residents are being represented and the will of the people is perpetuated. Some critics of Town Meeting complain that proponents of articles have to make presentations to too many committees and precinct caucuses. Well, we just saw the results of a study by RKG commissioned by the Plymouth Regional Economic Foundation, in which there was no input from all those committees. Fortunately, there is Town Meeting which will fully vet any of the RKG recommendations if they are turned into articles.
When government is reduced, such as going from Town Meeting / select board to city council / mayor, individuals and interest groups have a stronger influence. It is easier to convince a mayor or a city council to change a zoning law than to persuade 135 town meeting members. Town Meeting works. Keep it.
Pat Adelmann has been a Plymouth resident since 1977and is a mother of five Plymouth Public School graduates, a proud grandmother of 12, a former School Committee member and a former Town Meeting representative.
No, it should stay.
A mayor and councilors can be bought. Takes a lot of money to buy off a majority of town meeting reps. A mayor will have to carry favor with special interest groups. Not you.
There is an argument that you would have a “qualified” person in a mayor. The truth is the qualifications would be exactly the same as that of a town meeting rep. That of being a registered voter in the town of Plymouth.
To get elected as a mayor or counselor you will need to be politically connected. Now it’s people from your precinct, many of them.
No thank you. Keep government “of the people and by the people.” It’s not perfect but it’s good.
I just wish it were taught in schools and that more people believed in getting involved with their government rather than sitting back and letting government dictate to them. It’s a shame that more and more polls are finding that many people identify with socialism. You have a choice. Freedom or socialism. Freedom starts with taking an active part in your own government. Or just sit back and play a video game.
Jay Beauregard, born and raised in Plymouth, served four years in the Marine Corps and has worked for 37 years at a local company. He is a Libertarian who served three terms as a Town Meeting rep from Precinct 6.
In practice, Plymouth has become a much different entity than a sleepy little town. We have good people in town government, but Plymouth needs and deserves a full-time, elected mayor who knows what she / he is doing (because they are 100 percent immersed in it). We need a town council that meets weekly, not a limited-authority select board (the name "selectmen" should have been changed years ago) that reports to a town meeting twice a year. Examine agility, responsiveness, and responsibility and you will quickly conclude that a mayor / town council form of government has all of that and our current form of government pales in comparison. But it seems to me that getting that to happen here is about as likely as reviving a proverbial dead horse.
A Plymouth resident for more than 40 years, Jeff Berger is founder and owner of JMB Communications / websitesthatworkusa.com and everythingsxm.com as well as Northeast Ambassador for SkyMed International, www.getskymed.com. He is a former chairman of Plymouth’s Nuclear Matters Committee and its Cable Advisory Committee.
There is no question that our form of government as shown in the current town charter has outlived its usefulness and should be replaced.
Executive branch is dominated by long time political operatives. New blood beyond Ms. Cavacco and Ms. Joyce is especially needed. Recent election saw the incumbent barely challenged as new candidates are nonexistent. These part time ($4,000/year) executives mostly have full time jobs and they cannot keep up with the demands of a $240 million budget. A strong executive, either a town manager (preferred) or mayor working full time is badly needed.
The legislature or town meeting has become a joke. About one-third of members are town employees or their relatives, where conflicts of interest abound. Average age is in the 70s , 80 percent white males. A more diverse group is needed to represent all residents. Although town meeting has complete budget authority they very rarely exercise it or debate the 200 page $240 million in expenditures. These town meeting members have neither the ability nor the motivation to make informed decisions for our 60,000 residents. Plymouth needs a town council that meets regularly (not twice/year) and has the skills required to make good decisions.
Advisory and Finance Committee has 65 percent attendance rate and rubber stamps most budget requests with little debate. Its membership is dominated by long time political operatives representing a fraction of the town’s population and neighborhoods. The town moderator has let us down with many of his recent appointments effectively disenfranchising many of us. Ironically, in a recent public appearance the moderator voiced his personal support for a strong town manager/town council type of government. New charter would eliminate the moderator position.
The Massachustts DOR’s Technical Assistance Bureau issued a report in 2016 pointing out that it endorses centralized government structure with clear lines of authority as they enable better oversight and accountability. With a population of 60,000, Plymouth, and similarly Brookline, are well beyond a tipping point at 35,000 residents where changes should be made.
The recent charter committee failed to identify the facts discussed above. A formal report is still awaiting town meeting review.
Next steps will be a citizens petition, where voters will elect a charter commission which will rewrite the town charter to a form that meet the needs of all Plymotheans.
Standby Plymouth! Change is on the way.
Rick Caproni is a Town Meeting representative from Precinct 15, a retired equipment leasing executive and a self described political activist.
As a former Town Meeting representative, I would argue that Town Meeting is outdated, lacks transparency and has completely outlived its usefulness. I challenge anyone to quickly tell me who their nine
Town Meeting representatives are. I bet most voters don't even know that they have nine Town Meeting representatives. Add to that the fact that Town Meeting only meets twice a year (yes, I know special meetings can be called), and the problem is compounded. There are various forms of community governance in the commonwealth that could be implemented here. Whether it is a council model, a week mayor/strong council or strong mayor/weak council, there are many examples that Plymouth could examine to make our government work more efficiently.
Kevin O’Reilly grew up in Plymouth and is the former executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce. He is an executive with a local business.
There are many small communities that found, when they outlived their town meeting and selectmen form of government, they had the good sense to change to a mayoral and city council form of government. Apparently, Plymouth outlived this type of archaic form of government a long, long, long time ago but didn’t recognize that fact even when it’s year round population exceeded some 30,000. Decisions that should be made speedily still have to wait until Plymouth’s annual town meeting for a hopefully positive vote that might result from a cantankerous floor vote by a hundred-plus town meeting members whose opinions differ on any and all matters.
There are many small towns who have had the intelligence to elect to go to a mayoral and city council type government when their population reached somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000. This appears to be a town’s size when town meetings get too unwieldy and they smarten up and choose to become a small city. It is most certainly time for Plymouth to recognize that it is the time to vote again and succeed this time in changing from its archaic and cumbersome small-town form of government and go to a versatile mayoral and city council type.
Gerry Ouellette is a retired aerospace engineer and serves as a member of the Cable Advisory Committee. He is also a member of several local fraternal clubs.
Not yet. The system has flaws though. Only the selectmen have the authority to place a question on the ballot. We, the people cannot. At Town Meeting there is no appeal to a moderator’s ruling on an article. The moderator censors what town meeting considers. Town Meeting should be able to decide for itself what it hears or does not hear. And at the ballot box, any question should be able to come from us, as well as from our government. Ultimately, the power belongs to the people, not just through those we elect but the issues we define and decide directly through referendum.
Years past I was inclined toward a change, but come time to make an objective decision, I could not. Subjectivity prevailed and still does, as there are many at Town Meeting with a passion and morality of purpose founded in the best and most democratic government by the people we can muster.
Our form of government remains useful, probably not for a lot longer, but I hope long enough those engaged for a lifetime never suffer its loss. I think we can fix what we have one more time. Give it a decade. We got time.
Randy Parker is a principal at Land Management Systems and is a registered professional land surveyor. He serves as a town meeting representative and member of the Manomet Village Steering Committee. He was a member of the Growth Management Study Committee, chaired the Manomet Task Force and Steering Committee and was the founding president of the Simes House Foundation. He is a founding member of the nonprofit Manomet Village Common Inc. and serves as a director.
Our Town Meeting and the selectmen are doing quite well. Prudence has brought us a strong financial position with an S & P AA+ rating. Our town manager, a trained professional, is on top of everything. You can’t find a more diverse group of people than at Town Meeting. The alternative, a strong mayor, puts too much power in one person’s hands – we see that in Washington. Maybe some are happy, but the majority has, through the years, had a different perspective. The “grass is greener” is an old story from people that haven’t gotten their way and seek to overthrow things to get it. I’m concerned that all the discipline it took to get where we are could be jeopardized by one politician who could destroy it in one term. As to accountability, mayors are usually elected every six years - that’s a long time to wait out a bad mayor. Presently, selectmen are up for election every three years. For those who don't like certain selectmen – there’s a chance that one of them would be your mayor for six years. Taxes are rising mostly because of the value of our homes – nothing we can do about that. Our tax rate is right at the average across the state and to me that’s the right balance between services we get and what we pay for them. Those who want fiscal transparency can look at “Open Checkbook” on the town’s web site to see where the town spends every cent with each vendor.
Ed Russell is an attorney and a Precinct 12 Town Meeting representative, and he serves on a number of town committees.
For the past year, I have served on the Charter Review Committee while we deliberated on our recommendations to Town Meeting for modifications to the town charter. Throughout this process, we have taken time to hear the ideas and concerns of our fellow Plymoutheans about our existing form of government, striving to make meaningful and thoughtful changes. While we contemplated alternatives to our current structure, we voted as a committee to continue with our current form of government. We did so while recommending changes designed to increase governmental responsiveness, transparency and accessibility – some of the most common concerns voiced by those that came before us. I am looking forward to the discussion of our recommendations on Town Meeting floor and I hope the community will approach them with an open mind.
In the meantime, I think that it is important to remember that no form of government is perfect. However, I see representative town meeting as a pure form of democracy – one in which our neighbors, teachers, corner store owners and friends from all walks of life bring diverse sets of views and experiences to thoughtful deliberations and sometimes difficult votes on town issues.
Our form of government is also designed to serve all parts of town equally. Other forms may take this away, creating a system in which donors and partisan special interest groups can take hold, and smaller, more concentrated centers of power may serve particular segments of town more heavily and more ideologically. In this day and age, a group of nonpartisan citizens working together effectively is something worth keeping.
Elizabeth Segal is a resident of Manomet. She serves on the 2017-2018 Charter Review Committee and is an active member of the Plymouth Democratic Town Committee. She is a school social worker who has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over 10 years.
Sure is time for a mayoral form of government. The way they have locked up Town Meeting, making it almost impossible to have citizen input, is a disgrace! The adding of precinct committees makes it difficult to do business in town without a lawyer. The number of committees is ridiculous and many are redundant. However, the main reason is the total lack of accountability with our form of government.
Roger Silva is a former five-term Plymouth selectman who began public service as an elected Town Meeting member. He has served on the Advisory and Finance Committee and two charter commissions.