Assessment aims to put charter in perspective
|LONGMEADOW The Transition of Longmeadow's Town Government to the Mandates of its Home Rule Charter report assesses the transition of Longmeadow's town government to one based on its new charter approved four years ago. Our assessment is based on information obtained by reading all of the Select Board, Finance Committee and Planning Board meeting minutes and many of the School Committee meeting minutes published over the past four years. We also examined published documents such as policy manuals, and attended many many town government meetings and public forums.|
We have examined this information from the perspective of the written mandates of the Charter and from the intentions of the Charter Commission when developing this charter.
The Charter Commission designated the Select Board to be the executive branch of town government, to provide leadership in all governmental issues and supervise the new office of town manager. It also designated the town meeting to be the legislative branch of town government and offered the Finance Committee the opportunity to play more of a lead role in town meetings. The Finance Committee also was selected to be the town's long range fiscal planners. With this better balance of powers, the Charter established a basis for more efficient and effective operations.
The transition of our town government to one that is Charter based is largely complete. Our Charter mandates numerous changes, some 49 in all. Major elements of town government changed by the Charter include:
Select Board size increased from three to five; their role expanded to include being the water and sewer commission, guiding long range operational and facilities planning and supervising of the town manager.
Town Manager position created to be in essence the chief operating officer of town government, with a significant role in staff selection and supervision, budget development, etc.
School Committee role reiterated to include appointing/supervising the school superintendent, being the policy making body for the school district, guiding long range educational and facilities planning, and the making all appropriate rules/regulations for the administration and management of the school district.
Town Meeting rules and procedures to be continuously reviewed by a newly created standing rules committee; a referendum procedure created.
Finance Committee role changed fundamentally from that of annual budget development to one of long range fiscal planning and review of the developing town budget from the perspective of the long range fiscal plan.
Planning Board role modified to include responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the long range plan of the Town.
Department of Planning and Community Development created to coordinate and guide the safe, health and economic development of the town; includes the functions of planning, zoning enforcement, sub-division control, building inspections and code enforcement, conservation and historic district protection.
Department of Finance and Administration created to consolidate, coordinate and supervise all business, fiscal and financial activities of all town agencies, including those of the school district.
Department of Public Works role consolidated and expanded to include maintenance, repairs and improvement of all town buildings (including those of the school district), all roads, the water and sewer systems, and all town lands.
Audit Committee created to review the annual financial statements of the towns financial offices, review the independent auditor's management recommendations and provide advice and counsel to the Select Board, Town Manager, town accountant and treasurer.
Changes which cross organizational lines include implementing the long range plan, long range fiscal planning, supervision of employees, performance goal setting and evaluation, consolidation of service units, development of the budget and organizational development.
Forty-two of these changes have been accomplished. These are identified on a copy of the charter which will be attached to the Charter Transition Team Meeting minutes of June 20 by being marked as "completed," implying that the particular change is fully carried out.
Several changes are labeled "works-in-progress" or "largely complete" as they are not fully carried out. They include supervision of the town manager, the role of the finance committee, the work of the Select Board as water and sewer commissioners, budget development and handling, capital planning, the consolidation of certain town services and town policies development and employee evaluation procedures. The status of these is:
The supervision of the town manager
The Select Board is responsible for supervising the town manager. As part of this supervisory responsibility, regular performance reviews of the town manager are expected. A performance review was given the manager in 2006, but none was reported for 2007 and none for 2008. Currently there appears to be no written evidence of what annual goals were set for the manager, what achievements have been made against these goals and what the Select Board has thought of her overall performance. This lack of documentation works to the disadvantage of the town and indicates that board's supervision of the Town Manager is lacking in the fundamentals of good supervisory practice.
The role of the finance committee
The Charter mandates major changes to the role of the Finance Committee. As key members of the legislative branch of the government, this committee is charged with advising on fiscal policy, conducting long range fiscal planning, having jurisdiction over the reserve fund and completing the town's work on the proposed annual budgets. After four years, the evidence is that the Finance Committee has done little to develop long range fiscal plans or take a truly useful role in the budget work. Minutes of the committees meetings over the last four years show little progress on long term fiscal planning. With the prospects of frequent overrides for future town expenses beyond FY2010 and with hundreds of millions of dollars needed to renew the town's physical plant, the town looks to the Finance Committee for fiscal guidance from it's long range fiscal plans and there has been little forthcoming.
The work of the select board as water and sewer commissioners
Faced with an important change from status quo, the Select Board as water and sewer commissioners appears not be able to provide the leadership needed to effect positive results on a critical issue. After three years of water and sewer commissioner activity, in early 2007 the board contracted with one consultant to study water and sewer rates and a second to study the water and sewer physical facilities. The first consultant made recommendations about future rates which the Select Board quickly accepted and promulgated in the fall of 2007. The result was a disaster as far as many town residents were concerned. After months of discussion about what to do, the new rates were withdrawn, a temporary rate structure was imposed and a task force of town residents was appointed to further study the matter. On June 24, the Select Board set aside the recommendations of the task force and defined another new rate structure, a 'stop gap' measure, sufficient to meet the FY2009 water and sewer budget needs. These new rates are the fourth set of rates in 14 months!
Budget development and handling
In the fall of 2007 when it became obvious that a budget override would have to be put to a town vote, the Select Board endorsed a "budget strategies committee" to review the FY2009 budget and potential override and agreed to be members of this ad-hoc group. By taking this step, the Select Board abdicated its leadership role in the budget process. More effort is needed by the Select Board to execute its responsibility as the leaders of the town in budget work.
The Charter defined duties for the Finance Committee's work on annual budgets and set the expectation for a lead role for the Finance Committee in the budget discussion at town meeting. Guidance from Town Meeting Time, the Charter-defined reference for town meeting procedures, is that the town meeting can be the domain of the Finance Committee. After distribution of the town warrant by the Select Board, Town Meeting Time says that "it is theoretically possible to dispense with them (the Select Board) entirely." The Finance Committee's lead role in town meeting is a key to achieving an appropriate balance of power within town government. Since 2004, the actions of the Finance Committee in the town meetings show no change in their activities from pre-charter years. For town government to be more balanced in its efforts, the Finance Committee must step up to its leadership responsibility.
The charter mandates that the Capital Planning Committee assist the town manager in preparing a five year capital improvement program, that this capital improvement program be submitted annually to the Select Board and that the Select Board hold a public hearing on the capital improvement program before voting on the program. The Select Board further shall forward the program to the Finance Committee at the same time the proposed operating budget is forwarded to the Finance Committee. Current capital planning focuses more on annual plans than on five year planning. As a result there is a shortage of information about future capital needs which could assist the Finance Committee in long range fiscal planning.
In addition, the charter mandates that the capital improvement program shall include: (1) a clear, concise summary of its contents; (2) a list of all capital improvement projects and needs to be undertaken during the ensuing five years with supporting documentation, in such form as the town manager shall prescribe, describing the need for each project; (3) cost estimates, methods of financing and recommended time schedules for each project; and (4) the estimated annual costs of operating and maintaining each facility and or major piece of equipment involved. Generally, items (2) and (4) are not being done.
The consolidation of certain town services
Significant changes to the town and school district's scopes of responsibility for certain services needed by the school district, with the town becoming the provider of these services, continue to be worked on.
The consolidation of the maintenance of all school and town buildings/grounds under the DPW has been a four year struggle and continues to test both provider and customer. Many people, from foreman to elected officials, have been involved in decisions that could be routine, and this commotion slows and sometimes confuses the work plans and impedes results. The minutes of numerous meetings on this subject have recorded many of these difficulties. The expectation is that the continued dedicated effort by all parties will make this consolidation successful.
The consolidation of the school district and town accounting systems for expense control and budgeting under the town's Department of Finance and Administration has been difficult. As elected or appointed staff and committees have changed, old verbal and written agreements were lost, set aside or not understood, and even some of the best plans have been recast with the energy of new members. Today a single integrated financial system for the town's fiscal management is largely in place and continues to be reviewed for improvement in efficiency.
Town policies and employee evaluation procedures
Much important work has been accomplished by town administration, but certain mandates of the charter remain as works-in-progress:
The Town Manager has compiled a town policy manual which includes general policies and workplace and administrative policies, with their dates of acceptances. Most departmental policies such as those for the DPW and the Police and Fire Departments have been written, but not all.
A Human Resource Department has been added and comes under the direction of the Director of Finance and Administration. Under the Human Resource department, as well as many other departments, is a policy that outlines goals and objectives and an evaluation instrument. This policy is very important when used for negotiations, advancements, demotions and also is crucial for a hiring and firing policy (not developed). However, with the exception of the school district, most of our town employees fall under the aforementioned information of not having a written documented evaluation policy. All public school teachers do have an evaluation policy.
Organization charts have been developed for the Department of Finance and Administration, Fire Department, Police Department, Planning and Community Development, Department of Public Works, Department of Parks and Recreation and the Adult Center. None are available at this time for town administration, the school district or the overall town organization.
Finally, there is no central location where information can be reviewed regarding our town's policies, procedures and practices.
The Charter defines a modern government system. The town's bylaws are up to date, the result of much hard work by the bylaws committee. The majority of the changes needed for town government to comply with charter mandates have been completed. As the work in done to accomplish the remainder of the changes, the town of Longmeadow will prosper and grow.
~ Joseph Occhiuti, member, Charter Commission, 2003 - 2004
Member, Charter Transition Team
~ Roger Wojcik, chair, Charter Commission, 2003 - 2004
Chair, Charter Transition Team