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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Town Meeting to consider change to “Town Manager” form of government

Select Board calls power shift commonplace, modernizing, important 

By Theresa Knapp

At this month’s Annual Town Meeting, Holliston voters will be asked to adopt a “Select Board-Town Manager” form of government, changing the title (and some of the related duties) from “Town Administrator” to “Town Manager.” 

Holliston’s Town Administrator form of government was established in 1994. This would repeal that action. 

At a Select Board meeting on April 16, Chairperson John Cronin said, “Over the last 30 years, this position has grown and expanded as one would expect in a public entity like Holliston.” 

Cronin said the title “Town Manager” is “very commonplace now. Several of our neighboring communities have moved to this model. It provides more authority towards the public official in this case, away from the elected officials…It is a power shift, it’s designed to be a power shift.” 

Cronin said the draft act was modeled after a similar change recently enacted in the Town of Wayland. 

Holliston’s proposed 2024 Act would, among other duties, authorize the Holliston Town Manager to: 

- Serve as chief administrative and operating officer of the town,

- Ensure the completion of annual evaluations of all subordinate town employees (excluding the school department),town ‘manager’ is voting member of school committee but only on union contracts; a town ‘administrator’ sometimes serves in this role;” however, Cronin said that is not the case in Holliston. “This role will have little or no effect on the Holliston School System as well, that remains untouched; it’s very much an administrative improvement.” 

Town Counsel Jay Talerman said, “I think it’s worth noting for those that see this as a significant change to Holliston, and it’s a change for sure, that this is the trend really for towns, especially towns of your size and growth pattern. Municipal law, municipal governance, has only gotten more complicated and it’s harder and harder for a volunteer form of government such as yours, in particularly a Select Board, to manage all of the various tasks that a simple Town Administrator form of government thrusts upon you. So, I think towns that are similarly situated have moved to make their day-to-day chief executive slightly more powerful in terms of day-to-day functioning of government.” 

Select Board Clerk Ben Sparrell said the current role of Town Administrator is antiquated. “I think this is something that’s important…The fact is that we’re governing our community using an act that is 30 years old and the world is not the same as it was in 1994…It’s time for us to move into the 21st century.” 

Sparrell said the Select Board should be a policy-making board and should not be doing the day-to-day work of the town. “I look at this relationship as having a CEO who can run the day-to-day of the town, and we’re the Board of Directors – we’re overseeing, we’re making sure things are being done, we’re setting policy as appropriate, but we’re also allowing the Town Manager, in this case, to be able to handle things as appropriate, to report back to this board and to the community on the actions that are being taken, but we don’t necessarily need to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the town, it’s not appropriate.” 

Vice Chair Tina Hein said, through various local government audits, the feedback remains consistent that Holliston needs to modernize its government, become more efficient, and have a more “professional” Town Hall. 

Cronin reiterated that the Town Manager Act would not create any changes relative to the Finance Committee, Town Clerk, or School Department. “We recognize and value the silos that they operate in. We are not here to manage them or to usurp any authority. This role is merely designed to streamline communication, accountability, management within the Town of Holliston’s daily governance.” 

If passed, current Town Administrator Travis Ahern would go through a job reclassification, according to Cronin. 

Annual Town Meeting will take place on May 13 at 7 p.m. in the Holliston High School auditorium.