EDITORIAL: Time for a change

Town Meeting attendees are being asked to approve Article 44, which calls for Select Board members to serve staggered three-year terms instead of one-year terms. While this is not the first time Town Meeting has been asked to consider this question, we believe the proposed change should be adopted.

Having Select Board members’ terms run for three years instead of one year removes the need for all members to be focusing a significant portion of each year planning reelection campaigns instead of devoting all of their available time to the issues at hand.

Furthermore, by having staggered three-year terms, voters would have a better opportunity to evaluate the individual job performances of Select Board members instead of simply assessing the effort of the board as a whole.

In the case of newly elected board members, they should be given time to familiarize themselves with the various aspects of their position. And while we know of no instances when this has occurred, imagine the chaos that might ensue if in a given year there was a complete turnover of the five-member board. There would be no continuity of governance, and five “rookies” would be tasked with the job of running the executive branch.

While we do have a town administrator, he/she reports to the Select Board, not the reverse scenario, as it is the board, not the town administrator, that sets policies, approves licenses, appoints citizens to town committees and carries out the other duties required of the position.

Having one-year terms also discourages citizens from running for office when all five incumbents are running for reelection. History has generally shown that only when there is a vacancy on the Select Board will multiple non-incumbents choose to seek election.

With staggered three-year terms, it is easier for a non-incumbent candidate to run against an individual

incumbent and to seek to highlight the differences between them as a way to enable voters to make actual comparisons of the candidates. And it is interesting to note that this year two of our five incumbent Select Board members support the change to three-year staggered terms.

There are 292 towns in Massachusetts that have Select Boards and, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, they know of no other town in Massachusetts that has a Select Board with one-year terms for its members. We see nothing so unique to Marblehead that supports a continuation of one-year terms.

We urge you to vote yes on Article 44.

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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