Letter: Mayor question is a deep one
I was the chair of our (Brattleboro) Charter Revision Commission about seven years ago, our last revision. It was a three year process using more than 70 meetings. In the end we recommended 33 changes of which 24 were accepted by the voters.
We looked fairly extensively into the mayor/manager (weak and strong) systems even though there was only mild public interest in the issue to begin with. We brought a couple mayors and a couple managers down, one at a time, to discuss this with us. In the end we chose not to recommend a change from our Town Manager/Selectboard system.
The big questions were: what were the problems we were trying to solve and did their cause or solution have anything to do with one form of government leadership or another? Also, could we find substantial differences in the quality of governance and/or community between municipalities using different systems? In Brattleboro we have a Town Manager system. We could find no evidence among the few cities (mayor systems) in Vermont of any advantages, benefits or results that we didn't experience and enjoy ourselves.
It seemed that given the nature of our electoral system (that is, does our electoral system lend itself towards the choosing of truly qualified officers) we concluded that a board, with its more numerous and diverse membership, was more likely to choose a more qualified person. In that function it becomes a hiring committee and, as such, has the opportunity, if not responsibility, to choose and seek the most complete and necessary qualifications. It has the opportunity to compare a wide variety of generally qualified candidates. It makes a very deliberative and thoughtful choice. This does not describe an electorate. Essentially, concerning the specific task of filling top leadership with the most qualified person, the Town Manager system is a more effective and democratic system.
It seems like the usual argument for a mayor is to have a person who can and will be more decisive. More efficient, so to speak. Someone who can make and implement decisions more quickly. More than that, that person has to be making the "right" decisions. Given the nature of electoral campaigns, that voters are more often than not under-informed or ill-informed
or not voting at all , that candidates are only required to be 18 years old and a citizen of the municipality, what are the chances of getting the best possible person? Would a select board acting as a hiring committee, be seeking applicants with only those qualifications?
Again: what problems are you trying to solve? Is a mayor significantly more likely to solve them? Are there other ways of addressing your problems? There are, once they can be honestly identified and dissected.
— Spoon Agave
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.