“…secrecy can be accomplished … by making it difficult…for the citizens to gain access to the decision-making process”
Rapoport and Debunker appear to be on the opposite sides of the fence when it comes to openness of the civil proceedings of our Town government. Like many others in Town, I have often wondered how Town initiatives get started – like the initiative to find a new high school to replace Woodstock Academy â€“ and the role of the First Selectman in pursuing new initiatives. Wouldn’t the pursuit of new initiatives begin with the First Selectman and the Board of Selectmen rather than in some Town committee? If a Town committee conceived of a new initiative, wouldn’t pursuit of this new initiative have to receive approval by the Board of Selectmen?
In this context, I have often wondered about the limits of authority of the Board of Selectman, and the role of the First Selectman as defined in the Woodstock bylaws. I have been curious about this because itâ€™s my, perhaps naive, impression that many of the auxiliary Town Boards and Agencies function autonomously without oversight by the Board of Selectmen. Woodstockâ€™s Web site sheds no light on this subject – nor any information on the roles of other paid staff, elected Board members, and committee appointees (see the comments section in “Another Perspective…” by Debunker for more on this subject). It seems to me that we ought to be continuously reminded as to what these roles and limitations are.
To find out if other towns provide this information, I searched Google for information on the â€œauthorityâ€? of â€œBoard of Selectmenâ€? and got 147,000 hits even. Since the Board of Selectman is a government organization peculiar to New England, many of the hits were accurately focused on this subject. In fact many of the hits were the official Web sites for New England towns. If I restricted the search further to â€œWoodstock Connecticutâ€? or â€œWoodstock CTâ€? I got 4 or 18 mis-hits, respectively, (out of the 147,000) that used the word â€œauthorityâ€? in some other context â€“ I did not find the official â€œTown of Woodstockâ€? Web site in this search result.
When I looked at the second hit in the list of 147,000, it was the official Web site for the Connecticut Town of Durham. I opened this site and found the homepage to be filled with basic information about Durham government. In the center of the Web page there was a statement pointing to the statutes of the Town Charter and General Statutes of the State of Connecticut that define the authority of the Board of Selectmen (BOS). Just below this, there was a paragraph on the â€œPowers and Dutiesâ€? of the BOS. The following is a quote of most of this statement:
â€œResponsible for supervising the affairs of the town and responsible for guiding town officers and town bodies toward accomplishing the objectives of the town’s long-range comprehensive plans. Responsible for presenting to the Board of Finance the amount, purpose and proposed method of financing projected capital expenditures, holding joint meetings at least two times a year with one or more members of all boards, commissions and agencies to coordinate the planning and action of such, reviewing the current and projected administrative and fiscal needs of the town and developing and maintaining a long-range comprehensive financial plan. Responsible for making appointments to applicable town officesâ€¦â€?
Below this statement was a list of current members of the BOS and identification of the First Selectman.
At the bottom of the page, there were hot links to the agendas and minutes of the BOS meetings.
If you look to the left there are 18 hot links to different categories of information. One of these links takes you to 14 different â€œTown Departments and Officialsâ€?. All of the Town Hall and committee staff are listed, and there is a way to communicate directly with each town official by email along with all other contact information.
We are only scratching the surface here. I know little about the Town of Durham or the other 10â€™s of thousands of Towns whose official Town Web sites were found – but I have already learned something about how Durham operates. It became clear to me that many or most Towns in New England feel obligated to reach out to Town citizenry – the opposite arrangement for Woodstock is suggested in the last paragraph of Debunker’s article; Debunker agrees, however, that the Town needs a better Web site. Unfortunately, secrecy can be accomplished simply by making it difficult or awkward for the citizens to gain access to the decision-making process of Town officials.