Opinion: What powers do Selectmen actually have?

Apr 25, 2021
To the Editor:
I constantly see statements that the Selectmen or any individual Selectman should do this or that. The fact is we do not have the authority most people assume we have.
At the end of the day, we’re held responsible for whatever happens in Wareham, and we have to accept that. Our primary job is to provide guidance and direction to the Town Administrator, then our administrative duties per charter and bylaws. The Town Administrator by charter is tasked with the “day-to-day” responsibilities.
“Day to Day” was taken away from the Selectmen by the voters and given to the Town Administrator with their approval of the charter. The idea was to have professional management and to minimize “political influence.”
When any of the Selectmen have any issue we’re supposed to by majority (see charter) speak to the Town Administrator (TA). If he so allows, we then could speak to a department involved with that issue. This system has been in place for many years now to avoid workplace harassment! Myself and others do violate this rule and do get reprimanded by the TA.
No one Selectman has power, the Board asks by a vote of the majority. This is the system the voters approved!
As Selectmen we all want to help citizens, businesses and organizations when asked! We simply have limited powers! The TA does not have to listen to our requests!
What action do we have available? We can terminate! Simply, that is an extremely destructive action. Our current TA has done a tremendous job over the last 10 years because the Board of Selectmen have let him do his job and not interfered! Stability in Town Government is critical!
So, when anyone complains the Selectmen should do this or that, the simple fact is they do not have the authority to do so! We function based on Ma. General Laws, Town Charter, By-laws and zoning By-laws. Without these, we would have chaos!
If citizens are unhappy with the current situation then they need to work to change the system. If you study history this is what has happened when enough people say no! American Revolution with British rule! in 1776 example.
This is not a statement to make excuses, passing the buck etc. but simply the facts!
Alan Slavin
Wareham Selectman