State Rep. Jenny Armini told colleagues on Beacon Hill that the time has come for Marblehead to transition to three-year terms for its Select Board. At a Sept. 26 hearing, she emphasized that the constant campaigning required by one-year terms is detrimental.
Town Meeting last May approved the change, but it needs to be approved by the Legislature to take effect.
Testifying before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, Armini pointed out that Marblehead is the only Massachusetts town that still elects its Select Board members to one-year terms. This annual election cycle, she said, hampers long-term planning.
“Expertise and leadership are developed with consistent service insulated for a reasonable time from electoral considerations,” Armini testified. “That’s why the citizens of Marblehead voted to approve this change.”
Armini spoke in support of a home rule petition, S.2415, that would implement three-year staggered terms, stemming from the passage of Article 44 at May’s Marblehead Town Meeting.
The change would require the top two 2024 vote-getters to receive three-year terms initially, while the next two would have two-year terms. The fifth-place finisher would serve just one year before facing reelection in 2025.
“We prize our history, we protect our traditions, they make us who we are. But there’s one distinction that has outlived its usefulness,” she added. “Perhaps, one-year terms were good governance in 1649. But it is not good governance today, campaigning every 12 months even at the local level demands time and resources that distract from the Select Board’s essential tasks.”
Jim Zisson, the Article 44 sponsor, submitted written testimony, asserting that Select Board members function as the town’s chief executives today. He argued that one-year terms, originating in 1649, are outdated.
If the Municipalities Committee approves the home rule petition, it will advance to the full House and Senate for votes at a time to be determined. The petition would need to pass before landing on the governor’s desk. Marblehead would then implement the new three-year Select Board terms starting with the 2024 local election.
In the lead-up to the 2023 town election, the proposed home rule divided the Marblehead Select Board. New members Erin Noonan and Alexa Singer favored three-year terms for enhanced long-term planning, while Moses Grader defended the one-year terms, arguing they allow voters to rapidly address dysfunctional boards.
In his written testimony, Zisson mentioned he anticipates resistance based on tradition, as one-year terms have been a fixture since Marblehead’s inception. However, he countered by noting that the town has evolved from other early practices, such as having seven Select Board members and excluding women from Town Meeting.
“Adopting a three-year term aligns with the School Committee and other town boards,” Zisson wrote. “Annually, one or two seats would be up for election, hence the term ‘staggered.’ This maintains an experienced base even as new members join.”