Should the Board of Selectmen be changed to a 5 member board?

Greetings Lanesborough Residents and interested parties.

At the Annual Town Meeting in June of 2019 a citizens' petition was placed on the warrant to change the configuration of the Board of Selectmen from a three (3) member board to a five (5) member board.  The Moderator allowed the question to determine if there was any support.  The legislative body voted to approve the article with the understanding that it was not going to actually change the number of board members as written. There was much discussion.

Town Counsel explained the following:

The process to change a board's configuration differs for boards and committees depending on the general laws, charters, bylaws, type of committee/board, and whether the group is elected or appointed. To change the number of Selectmen there has to be change in the town charter, (Lanesborough is not a chartered town) or an act of legislation to change the configuration of the this board.

From Town of Duxbury Government Study Report prepared by DLS | Technical Assistance Bureau 100 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114: “State law precludes making such a change solely through a town meeting vote. Therefore, to institute the change, the town would need to gain approval by town meeting, a special act of the Massachusetts legislature, and voter approval via a referendum.” (emphasis added)

Some of the residents were dissappointed to find out that the warrant article would not accomplish their goal.  The vote was very close, 55 yes to 52 no.  Article #26 can be found here.

Things to consider for this type of change:

1.  There has historically been little to no contested seats for the board of selectmen unless the incumbant has done something specific to spark a contest. Will there actually be candidates to run to fill all the seats over the long term?  Right now there is interest but will it be sustained? Interest in this type of change is typically sparked by some discomfort with the current board.  Once that issue has passed the town is stuck with the new configuration for better or worse.

2.  If the seats are not filled, there must be at least 3 board members present at all times for all meetings for any legal action to be taken. That could greatly hamper getting any work done as they cannot act without a vote of the majority. For example, no majority would delay, permits being issued which impacts the local businesses and work being done within the town.  Such delays would make Lanesborough a "difficult town" to have a business; which could decrease economic development and viability.  A decrease in economic development would cause the tax burden on residents to increase because the revenue generated by the businesses and work being performed in town offset taxes. Without that offset, the entire tax burden would fall onto the residents.

3.  A majority for a 3 member board is 2 votes. A majority of a 5 member board is 3 votes(regardless of how many seats are filled).  If the seats are not filled all votes must be unanimous to prevail.  That means that if you have 3 selectmen seated, and the vote is 2 to 1, no action can be taken on whatever the vote pertains to until the board is unanimous. This could give any one board member the ability to hold the town business at a standstill.  

4.  The Board of Health was changed to have a 5 member board. The seats could not be filled by responsible people. The Board of Health maintained a 3 member group, causing delays and difficulties in efficiency and in getting a quorum for meetings. It was changed back to the 3 member configuration at this last town meeting for some of the issues noted above. 

5.  A five member board can permit the board members to converse with each other outside of an open meeting in pairs.

6.  If all the seats are filled there would be little need to vote out of the rule of necessity

The decision belongs to you. Please consider thoroughly when the time comes. 

Thank you.


Kelli A. Robbins, Esq.

Town Manager

Links to information and articles:

"Should Upton enlarge its Board of Selectmen from three members to five members?"

"Petition to increase size of Belmont Board of Selectmen fails."

"OP/ED: Should The Board Of Selectmen Revert From 5-Member To A 3-Member Board?"

"Town Government Committee Report - November 14, 2018"