During our three years of work, the Falmouth Charter Review Committee has searched the town charter for issues that needed to be addressed and items that needed correction. While we assembled 22 amendments for consideration by the select board and Town Meeting, and finally by voters at the ballot box, we probed the overall question: How effectively is the town’s government managing its complex challenges?

Our impressions, as noted in this series of recommendations, are that:

  • an earnest and hardworking select board is grappling with complex agendas in which the coordination of planning and policy often receives limited time;
  • the senior managers are pressed to prepare for and respond to these complicated agendas by a variety of unclear procedures in personnel and other areas;
  • issues with communication and coordination arise when numerous town committees are advising or regulating the work of the select board and the town staff; and
  • Town Meeting is increasingly challenged as it deliberates multifaceted issues.

To its credit the select board has built into its strategic plan a goal entitled “Improving Organizational Effectiveness.” The goal reads in part:

“The select board will encourage continued evaluation of the town’s organizational effectiveness. We will evaluate our own effectiveness ....and we will encourage ongoing assessment of all Town functions and services...”

Despite productive annual strategic planning retreats, the select board has yet to lay out how this evaluation and assessment of the town government will take place. Our committee feels time is of the essence to focus on the effectiveness question given such challenges as:

  • implementing coastal resiliency measures in response to coastal storms and sea level rise from global warming and climate change;
  • fostering workforce and affordable housing;
  • providing quality town drinking water: source, treatment and delivery;
  • improving wastewater management processes;
  • managing tourism and creating other sustainable job opportunities;
  • managing community development with an effective organization;
  • maintaining emergency response capabilities;
  • creating access to high-quality internet systems; and
  • managing traffic and parking with bicycle and pedestrian safety.

In Massachusetts, appointed charter review committees like ours are not allowed to make recommendations on changing the form of government. To take that on, state law requires that the town undertake a rigorous process to adopt a charter commission and elect its members.

Instead, our committee urgently asks the Falmouth community and the select board to work together now to assess the effectiveness of the current government. This may lead to changes that strengthen the town’s ability to deal with the array of complex problems.

In making this suggestion, our committee notes that (based on 2010 census data) Falmouth’s size alone does not mandate one form of government or another. We are in the middle of municipalities where the basic structure of government varies between a town manager/select board/Town Meeting and a mayor/council. Of the next 14 towns larger than Falmouth, six have retained our basic form. Of the 14 towns smaller than ours, eight have our current form.

More significant than size are the scale and complexity of the town government’s operations. The annual revenue, expenditure and capital budgets of our town are certainly large enough to prompt thoughtful, objective assessment of whether our current structure provides a reasonable opportunity to deal effectively with what lies ahead.

Considering the scope of such deep, seemingly intractable problems as climate change and the major shortfall in affordable housing, our charter review committee feels strongly that we would be remiss in not engaging in this critical community conversation.

(Dr. Clark is chairman of the Falmouth Charter Committee.)

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