Improving Marion's municipal governance bylaws

May 02

To the Editor:

The May 14, 2018 Marion Spring Town Warrant has arrived in your mail box. Warrant Articles 37 and 38 deserve voter reflective contemplation and support for improving Marion’s municipal governance process.

Article 37 is a new bylaw designed to eliminate divided loyalties, conflicts of interest, abuse of power and undue influence by precluding and individual serving on multiple elected boards at the same time. The bylaw also precludes Town employees severing as a selectman eliminating the question of who is the “boss."

It is not good municipal governance practice to have an individual participate on multiple elected boards at the same time.

Last year Steve Gonsalves and Norm Hills were members of the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Sewer and Water Commissioners. Each time there was a Planning Board meeting, their meeting participation constituted a quorum of the Board of Selectmen, Water and Sewer Commissioner and the Planning Board.

Michelle Smith is running for School Board and Board of Selectmen. The relationship between the School Board and Board of Selectmen provides a significant opportunity for divided loyalties and board conflicts especially regarding budgets.

An individual needs to make a choice on the elected board he or she will participate eliminating the opportunity of conflicts, abuse of power and divided loyalties.

Norm Hills is now in the position to become chairman of the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Water and Sewer Commissioners.

If Michelle Smith was elected to the School Committee and Board of Selectmen, she would have voting power regarding the town's operating budget, water and sewer enterprise funds and the school budget, which is aggregating and approaching close to $30,000,000 annually.

By adopting this bylaw at Town Meeting, Norm Hills will need to make a choice as to which board he will serve on; Board of Selectmen or Planning Board. Michelle Smith too will need to make the choice between the School Committee or Board of Selectmen, should she be elected. She and Norm Hills will not be able to participate on both boards at the same time.

Town employees serving as selectmen provide an environment and opportunity of abuse, conflicts of interest, and receiving undue privilege real or perceived. The core question is who is the “boss” is ever present. Article 38 is a right to know bylaw, its genesis being a Brookline governance practice.

Voters have a right to know the issue they are being asked to approve at Town Meeting and participate in the vetting process before the issue are placed on the warrant.

Ted North, Marion