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Ex-Lowell official: Council-manager best.

Byline: Brian Lee

SOUTHBRIDGE -- The council-manager form of government that has been in place here for 40 years is the "most nimble'' and "expeditious manner'' in which to deal with problems, and is the most accountable to voters and residents, former Lowell manager Bernie Lynch said.

Mr. Lynch spoke during a public hearing Wednesday about a Southbridge petition group's quest to have the town revert to a selectmen-administrator government with an open town meeting.

Voters will be asked during the June 24 annual town election to make the change. The uncertainty has put a halt to the search for a town manager to replace interim Town Manager Robert T. Reed, whose six-month position ends this month.

Mr. Lynch was an invited guest at the hearing, which Town Councilor Denise Clemence said she helped organize as requested by the council vice chairman and chairman.

Another participant, former Springfield Mayor Robert T. Markel, said that under an open town meeting, four entities -- voters, selectmen, the administrator and finance committee -- share power. This can lead to finger-pointing when something goes wrong, Mr. Markel said.

Mr. Lynch, who suggested Southbridge residents wouldn't know what to do in a town meeting structure because they were used to a council, added that there was a tendency for special interest groups to take over a town meeting.

Also Chelmsford's former town manager, Mr. Lynch recalled a meeting during which a Chelmsford group voted in favor of a department budget that was about a half million dollars higher than what was recommended.

This left the town with having to either raise taxes or cut something else.

He recalled that the winning side "walked out of the town meeting leaving the problem for somebody else to solve,'' which is "not a responsible way to do things.''

But Michael V. Caplette, the petition group's lawyer, said there were situations where a town meeting member expressed something more effectively than a finance committee member or selectmen, and town officials sometimes don't give enough credit to the common sense and intelligence of townspeople.

Generally, town meeting voters approve a good idea, and can "see through'' bad ones "in about five seconds.''

Because 700 people signed the Southbridge petition, there is a disconnect with the council-manager form here, the lawyer said.

Each of the state's 351 cities and towns, of which 296 use an open or representative town meeting, has to use a form that works for it, and no one size fits all, Mr. Caplette said.

It has been argued that Southbridge is too big to use a town meeting, but Michael Marketti of the petition group pointed out that Framingham, which has 69,000 residents, about four times larger, uses a representative town meeting.

After the meeting, James J. Marino, the petitioners' spokesman, appeared unimpressed by the arguments in favor of councils and managers. He said those panelists might have a different view if they "saw what goes on here.''

He asserted that a former chairman called residents names when they tried to speak to the council.

Panelists argued that during the hearing voters could simply vote someone off the council.

Contact Brian Lee at Brian.Lee@telegram.com.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Lee, Brian
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 6, 2014
Words:528
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