Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?
These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.
Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...
...seems to be working so far
Thursday, February 5, 2009
In most cities there are occasionally power struggles among mayor, counsel members, and various departments. Most of those issues revolve around jurisdiction of particular boards, departments, and facilities. The mayors office may feel that it is in charge of the schools, the school committee feels otherwise. These are big issues, and will often go on for a long time depending on the personality of the mayor, and those the mayor is confronting.
Here in Sturbridge we have power struggles as well, but since we are such a small town, our struggles are not nearly as dramatic. I mean, really, what is there in town to struggle over? Well, if there isn't anything to struggle over, make something up.
Currently, there is a power struggle involving the dump. The Town Administrator feels he is the King of the Dump, and not the Board of Health. He feels that he has the time for oversight of duties that our part-time Board of Health does not have the time for, including making appointments to the board for inspector positions, and being the ruling authority of the dump. Town attorneys agree with the Town Administrator, but the lawyer for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards disagrees.
"State law gives boards of health the authority to employ the necessary officers, agents and assistants to execute the health laws and its regulations. The charter does not explicitly or implicitly strip the Board of Health of this authority.", according to the attorney for the Association.
The Town administrator disagrees with this position.
But, why? Why would the Town Administrator be so inclined to want to have ruling authority of something like the dump, and not let it be under the jurisdiction of the Board of Health like it is in other Massachusetts communities?
There's more to this power struggle than meets the eye.
If we are going to go by the Town Charter, and review it for duties not explained fully for each department and board, and have those duties assumed by the Town Administrator by default, then we is in for a world of trouble.
I don't have the charter in front of me, but if we use the argument that the administrator is using then we should look closer at it and move ALL the other duties not specifically spelled out in the charter to his office.
Imagine the mess.
Or, we can behave normally, and assign those duties that involve the health and well being of Sturbridge residents to, I don't know, let's say the Board of Health. Whoa. Now, there's an idea.
Once that precedent is established it will insure we don't use teachers to plow the roads, or the rec department to run the waste water treatment facility.
Once a city, or towns leadership decides to assume more responsibilities that would otherwise fall under the domain of other departments because leadership feels that the boards, or departments are only part time, or too small to provide proper oversight, then, now here it comes: common sense, it is then time to: (altogether now) make the department bigger, and go full time.
If the town has out grown it's 1950's style of boards and departments, then leadership must insure that our town government grows as does the town.
Mayors and Town Administrators don't have time for running other departments. It's all about delegation of authority to those that have knowledge in the area.
Just makes common sense.
Sometimes I think every town should have an Office of Common Sense, and all proposals, and daydreams of officials must be submitted to the Overseer of Common Sense before they can be officially proposed to the town.
Heck, I'd volunteer. Not as important sounding as King of the Dump, but Overseer does have a ring to it.
Now, I need to review the Charter. Who knows, maybe the Fence Viewer is not officially sanctioned in it, and that's all we need is one more job for the Veterans Agent.
Addendum: The following is from the Town of Sturbridge Charter Revised April 2007:
Section 4-8 Board of Health: Composition; Term of Office; Compensation; Powers and Duties.
(A) Composition, Term of Office - there shall be a board of health consisting of three (3) members elected by the voters for terms of three years so arranged that the term of office of one member shall expire each year.
(B) Compensation - The members of the board of health shall receive for their services such compensation as may annually be provided for that purpose by appropriation.
(C) Powers and Duties - the board of health may make reasonable health regulations and shall enforce the laws relating to public health, the provisions of the state sanitary code and all local health regulations.
Ed note: The proper name for the dump is the Town of Sturbridge Recycling Center, however it is not as funny as "dump", or "King of the Dump".