Letter: Examine Article 2, and then vote no
In preparation for election day on March 6, I encourage all of my fellow citizens to read the exact language of Article 2 (mayor) very closely and to vote no.
Article 2 states the mayor "shall have the power to veto any action of the Select Board." The judgement of one democratically elected official can undo the action of seven democratically elected officials with no means for override. This is an alarming amount of power to rest with one individual.
Article 2 also states that the mayor "shall be responsible for the management of the administrative affairs of the town." Currently, our elected Select Board sets the vision for the town. Then, the town manager manages the administrative affairs of the town based on that vision. Under Article 2, the mayor will replace the town manager. The town manager is currently hired by the Select Board based on strict education and work experience criterion. Currently, the town manager position requires significant experience and education in accounting, finance, human resource management, municipal law, operations management and a host of other skills to keep a town of our size running smoothly. The mayor is elected based on his or her popularity. No special skills, education or experience are required. That may be fine for a ceremonial head of government, but is that really who you want administering the day-to-day management of the town?
Our elected Select Board can also fire the town manager with 90 days' notice. The only means of removing the mayor will be to vote him or her out of office at the end of his term. This may be months or years, as the length of the mayoral term is not defined in Article 2.
Some have suggested that we can vote for a mayor system now and work out the details such as veto power, term lengths and term limits later. However, that is not the case. Article 2 is written as a Charter amendment. The only way to change Article 2 as written, would be to introduce additional Charter changes which would need to be approved by voters in a future election or for the Vermont State Legislature to override a vote of the citizens — both very unlikely scenarios.
Sometimes it is tempting to want change for the sake of change. Our current form of government may not be perfect, but we all have the opportunity to vote seven Select Board members in or out of office based on their vision. The Select Board then works with the town manager to administer that vision. To uproot and replace our current form of government is a serious undertaking and a huge distraction at a time when we need all eyes on economic growth. Cutting off one's head is hardly an acceptable remedy for a headache. Dissolving our current government is not a winning formula for Bennington's future.
The recent changes recommended by the Charter Review Committee (of which I was a member) go a long way to improving accountability and to making our current system run more efficiently. I strongly urge my fellow citizens to review the final report of the Charter Review Committee at http://benningtonvt.org/meetings/charter-review-committee/ and to support those changes when they are put up for a vote in June.
In the meantime, I urge you to note no on Article 2 on March 6.
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