Bethel: Despite its critics, a mayor is a good idea for Bennington

In the last few weeks, the established order has attempted to thrash the idea of a mayor. The charter amendment is on the ballot for March 6 here in Bennington. It is an idea whose time has come.

This is just step one. This vote is a binding vote on amending the charter. It allows us the legal authority to have a mayor for Bennington. A future vote will replace the town manager with a mayor.

It's apparent to anyone that the town manager system has not worked in our town. If Bennington were a ship, under today's system, it would have seven captains and one mate. The mate actually runs the ship; the seven captains meet and talk, often ignorant of where the ship is heading. They set policy. They don't govern.

With one captain, Bennington will have a face, a character. The mayor would be an elected official, with all the authority of the manager, plus the ability to direct the Select Board's actions by a veto. The mayor will be Bennington's representative to the outside world.

There have been criticisms of the proposal because it does not include any ability to override the veto. Those who object to this have made false claims that this is a weakness of the proposal. Don't believe them. This is simply a way of keeping the board in check. If the board can overrule the mayor, the board will be supreme, and nothing will change.

The selectboard lacks leadership and accountability. Its chair has no extraordinary powers. The chair is just one of seven, and four votes rules the board. A mayor will have to be respected by the board. The possibility of a veto will change its dynamics. It will actually be strengthened, not weakened under this proposal, because it will have a leader, whose voice will carry, who will guide the board and inspire it with a plan to improve our town. The board, at last, will have a focus.

The board will still control all expenditures. The mayor cannot make those decisions alone. There is no risk, as some have claimed, of the mayor turning rogue.

Goodness knows we can do better than we have done in recent years. We could revive our town, make Bennington a place where business can thrive and people want to live. We are at a tipping point. We can continue to slide downhill into a place without a spirit, or we can reverse this trend by active leadership from a single official — a single, responsible official.

Let March 6 be a referendum on the mayoral system. We take no risk in putting the idea in place. It may need refining from time to time before the system is adopted. But it's a first step to elect a strong mayor to lead us, whose ideas cannot be diluted or dismissed with impunity by a majority of politicians, and who will be directly accountable to the voters on election day.

Please vote yes on Article 2 on March 6.

If you have questions about the proposal, please call me at 442-9196.


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