Friday, March 23, 2007
Meet Carlisle's leaders: the Board of Selectmen
The five volunteer members of the Board of Selectmen are Carlisle's town CEOs. They are elected officials, serving for three-year terms. Selectman vice-chair Tim Hult has announced that he will run for re-election this May. Selectman clerk Bill Tice and John Williams are serving terms that will expire in 2008, and chair Doug Stevenson and Alan Carpenito are serving terms that will expire in 2009.
The Selectmen meet to conduct the business of the town on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 7 p.m. in the Clark Room at Town Hall, and as needed on other dates. Their meetings are open to the public and usually televised on CCTV, our local cable channel. Each meeting contains an "open forum" section in the agenda, during which the chair will ask residents to speak either to agenda issues or to concerns of their own.
Article III of Carlisle's Town Bylaws charges the Selectmen with the "general direction and management of the property and affairs of the town." In addition, they are "the agents of the town to institute, prosecute and defend any and all claims, actions and proceedings to which the town is a part," and they are, unless otherwise voted by Town Meeting, "authorized to enter into any contract for the exercise of the Town's corporate powers."
This sounds like a tall order, and it is. To keep the board abreast of town activities, each of the five Selectmen acts as a liaison to one or more boards or committees. In addition, each takes on an assignment to manage information on one or more particular issue so that the board as a whole always has current data on all town affairs. Each becomes a specialist, so to speak, in one or more areas of interest to the town at large.
Usually, these areas of interest represent the "big stuff" with which the whole town is concerned: cell towers, 40B developments, school wastewater treatment facilities, recreation fields and the like. Selectmen are also well informed about vital, but less visible issues, like public health and safety: police communications, a general emergency plan, evacuation plans. With this information, they can initiate action, respond to residents' concerns, manage and direct the everyday workings of the town, and, with the assistance of the Town Counsel, whom they hire, deal on the town's behalf with any "claims, actions and proceedings" that may come before them.
People on the team
In addition to the Town Counsel, the Selectmen employ the Town Administrator (Madonna McKenzie), the Police Chief (John Sullivan), the Fire Chief (David Flannery), and officially appoint other town employees and volunteer board members.
Margaret DeMare has been secretary to the Board of Selectmen since 1999. In addition to keeping minutes and records for the board, DeMare is the voice who answers the phone and your questions when you call the Selectmen. She is responsible for the reservation and placement of publicity on the rotary in the Town Center and she compiles and produces the Annual Town Report.
Policies and responsibilities
Selectmen work closely with elected and appointed boards and committees. They also coordinate Carlisle's participation with regional and state organizations. They sign off on the Warrant for Town Meetings. They levy fines on violators of the town's laws and serve as the town's licensing board. This means that they have the power to grant licenses to wireless service providers to place transmitters on Carlisle's new cell towers or a liquor license to Ferns if the application passes final approval of Town Meeting. They may also grant the organizers of the seventh-grade play or the Garden Club a limited license to post a sign at the rotary in the Town Center.
The Selectmen are where the buck nearly stops, i.e. just short of Town Meeting, with regard to town finances. The Finance Committee can present a budget and make recommendations, but the Board of Selectmen approves the budget on the Warrant at Town Meeting, and they are ultimately responsible for all town finances. They sign warrants for the payment of all town bills, which are then discharged by the Town Treasurer (currently Larry Barton). In addition, they are the Trustees for the various trusts in the town's possession, which means that they have the responsibility to manage the funds in those trusts in the town's best interest.
We depend on our Selectmen to coordinate the efforts of all the town boards and departments, as well as to listen and respond to us as individual citizens and to act for us individually and collectively. Even in a town as small as ours, this is no small task, and it requires a large commitment of time and dedication.
Why they serve
To a man, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) serves because they have a commitment to work hard to help the Town of Carlisle, but each has a slightly different interpretation of what that means. Carpenito originally ran for his position because he felt that there was a "void in representation on the board." Carlisle, he says, "has a very broad economic spectrum and all citizens' concerns must be heard and respected." Hult, who has just thrown his hat into the ring for election to a third term, feels that his "experience, good working knowledge of the town, all of the departments and current issues would be beneficial" to Carlisle, especially at this time. Stevenson, the only Carlisle native on the board, attended Town Meeting as a teenager, and "having been active in many other volunteer town activities," believed he had the requisite "desire to serve the community." Williams has a "love for Carlisle and the values we stand for. I want to protect and enhance Carlisle through some challenging years," and Tice says, "It is important to give back to the community, especially when we are blessed to live in such a great community as Carlisle. It is an important responsibility to be in any elected town role."
What it takes
The importance of this particular elected office and what it takes to do the job well are subjects about which the Selectmen have strong opinions. They generally agree that leadership capabilities, some facility in financial matters, the ability to seek creative solutions to problems and life experience are fairly basic to the job, as well as the time to devote to it. Every one of them speaks in some measure about the necessity for patience and respect. Williams spoke of "an ability to encourage the best in others along with the conviction that all of us are trying to do what is good." Words and phrases like "humility," "being part of a team that employs several people," "courage," or, in Hult's words, "good self-esteem and a thick skin" are all part of the job description. However, the number one quality that all of the Selectmen stressed as necessary to success in their work is the willingness to listen to the concerns of Carlisle's diverse citizenry and to understand people's points of view.
If all this sounds like a tall order, it is. Stevenson says that he tells "all new Selectmen that the job can be consuming if one is not careful," so it is also a good idea to be able to find some balance between being a Selectman and one's personal and professional life. Stevenson adds that having an understanding spouse and family "goes without saying."
How they use their experience
Each member of the board has a different set of skills and experience that creates what Tice calls "a fairly diverse set of viewpoints" that he says makes for better decisions. Carpenito has worked in "public sector construction for 31 years," and has ten years' experience in public bidding, so he puts that experience to work in analyzing our public projects.
Stevenson, too, has worked in the construction industry for much of his working life, most recently in residential construction. He believes his "project management and small business experience has been invaluable in working through the many challenges Carlisle faces. In many respects [running Carlisle] is similar to running a small company."
Williams manages investments, and "to oversimplify," advises clients "about the probability of long-term sustainability given their level of spending on the one hand and their investment allocation on the other hand." Williams adds that, "estate planning is even longer-term planning, and is driven by taxes and other numerical variables The BOS serves the town in a fiduciary capacity. We look at long-term sustainability given operating expenses as well as capital from a changing population on the other hand. Much of this is similar to what I do for my clients."
Tice brings to the BOS degrees in electrical engineering and strategy and entrepreneurship. He feels that he has been "lucky to have had a rich variety of engineering and management roles, all of which have impacted my approach to decision making."
Hult retired in 2000 from "general management (CEO, COO) of emerging technology companies in their founding and development" and brings this management experience to the BOS. Since 2000, he has reoriented his life to service activities, and has the time to be able to devote to these endeavors.
Ease and fun on the job
Selectmen handle a wide variety of duties, ranging from the straightforward to the complex. Hult cites "working with town departments" as the easiest task, because "employees are excellent and highly committed to their jobs." Tice says the easiest thing is "attending the regular BOS meetings" and Williams adds that, "working with the other members of our board and with members of other town bodies makes the difficult tasks easier and the easier ones fun." In a more lighthearted vein, Carpenito says that "attending the morning coffee with the staff of the Gleason Public Library was a real pleasure," and Stevenson says that the easiest thing he has had to do as a Selectman is "thank people for all that they do for the town."
And then there are the challenges
The most difficult things that the Selectmen have to do usually center around the fiduciary charge that Williams talks about: "trying to slow the growth of operating costs." Carpenito puts this another way: "keeping Carlisle affordable for longtime residents. Citizens that remain in their homes throughout retirement are a tremendous asset to the community." Hult says he thinks the toughest issues are balancing "affordability with very real financial needs for the future" and "the affordable housing issues."
Stevenson cites the "purchase of the Benfield property, the (failed) override votes in 2002, the appointment of a new police chief and the ongoing Coventry Woods 40B application. Unfortunately," he says, "the positions and passions involved in these matters have [pitted] neighbor against neighbor at times." He adds on a more personal note that the losses of Vivian Chaput from the BOS and longtime Town Clerk and Accountant Sarah Andreassen in the same year were especially difficult to deal with.
Tice summarizes what is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all: "If you are committed to the role, you often feel frustrated that you can't do more. You truly want to make a difference!"
Special interests and plans
Tice lists technology as a personal interest, and notes that the new town Web site and the broadcast of meetings over local cable television are making town government "more accessible and transparent to allThis will enable more opportunities for citizen awareness and feedback on the issues and also possibly inspire more people to get involved on town committees and boards."
Carpenito's special project is in line with his dedication to keeping Carlisle affordable and accessible to retirees: he "would like to see a community/senior center built in the near future that would have multigenerational benefits" and believes "it could be funded without raising taxes."
Williams says that within the context of the core goals the Selectmen outline each year, he would like to see a solution to the affordable housing issue. He suggests that Carlisle "produce a number of mixed (market rate and affordable) developments in scattered lower density projects of four units per acre with at least 40% affordable." To do this, he would push for private funding of approximately "$15,000,000 in gifts of appreciated property" which has a net cost to the donor of 60 cents or 40 cents on the dollar depending on the donor's particular tax situation. He adds that we need to "work on the state level to modify [the affordable housing] law."
Stevenson's general plan is to "serve and preserve my home town," but as a member of the town's on-call fire department and the father of triplets, he admits a "natural inclination toward public safety departmentsand maintaining a top quality education for our children."
Hult says his "focus this year has been on long-term financial projections. My interest is now to take that work and attempt to come up with a framework that allows us to undertake the replacement of our important school facilities and maintain the quality of our services, but do it in a way that is reasonably affordable to our taxpayers and particularly to our aging residents, such that they can remain in Carlisle."
Being a Selectman is, to use a simple metaphor, where the buck stops. As each BOS member has illustrated, it is a major commitment of time, skill, and effort. Is there a reward? Tice puts his finger on it when he says, "The most rewarding thing is when you have made a good decision for the town that has a positive impact on the community."
© 2007 The