I’ve heard both sides of the argument for the role of a Town Manager. Some towns believe the position is too powerful and usurps the direction and policies of the Board of Selectmen. Still other towns believe that in this complex day and age the town manager is the only individual that has the daily resources to be able to run a multi-million dollar municipality. Resources that a part-time volunteer board of selectmen just doesn’t have.
The debate of the value of town manager will continue on.
I think that if a study were to be done that towns with a town manager generally do better in issues like grant applications, taxbase development and issues that relate to the growth of the community instead of towns that do not.
But what happens to communities for whatever reason aren’t growing?
An example of this is right across the river from Littleton, NH in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. A community that time seems to be passing by. A community that is clearly buckling under the weight of taxation and lack of forward growth.
The last election the voters sent a mandate: cut.
As policymakers the current board of selectmen is doing just this. There’s been a recent shakeup of town government positions have been cut and reduced as the attempt is being made to reduce the overhead of the only St. Johnsbury in America. But the long-term question is how long can they continue to cut? This is where I think the value of the town manager comes in and this editorial in the Caledonian Record Newspaper captures this. I’m sharing this whole idea of the town manager as some individuals including some on this board believe that the solution for NH State Government is simply to cut.
After you’re done cutting how do you move forward from there?
Source: Caledonian Record Newspaper
“St Johnsbury's selectmen appointed an interim town manager Monday. He is Jim Fitzgerald from St. Albans. He has an arm's length of experience in the public eye, including time spent as St. Albans mayor, Milton's town manager, and three terms as the Democratic legislative representative from St. Albans. For the interim position, he beat out John Hall, a local favorite, and Joel Schwartz, former town economic development officer.
Fitzgerald is going to need all of his political skills as well as his management prowess. He is coming into a situation that is politically red hot. The select board is divided on many issues. Feelings are high, and the town is on edge.
Fitzgerald's first decision is a good one. He will spend time with Mike Welch, outgoing town manager, to get the lay of the land. While he is at that, he should take stock of the sentiment of the voters as they expressed themselves in the March vote, i.e. they elected three men to the select board whose stated position was smaller government, and they rejected the general budget.
We're glad to see John Hall was among the contenders. We agree with Bryon Quatrini in seeing Hall as an excellent candidate. We hope Hall will be available and strongly considered for the long-term manager position when that search is on. He has been town manager; he is politically astute; he is well known throughout the town and equally well liked; and he knows both management and operational positions inside out. If anybody can bring peace to the chafing parties, John Hall can.
We also admire Joel Schwartz for throwing his hat in the ring. He showed true professionalism by applying to the very same men who fired him from the development position. He showed his willingness to continue to serve the town of St. Johnsbury. Lesser men would nurse their wounds and, perhaps, write us all off.
Jim Fitzgerald is stepping into a tough job. He needs and deserves the support of all of us. He's got ours.”