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Hingham Massachusetts, Incorporated 1635, History & Pride

Town Government &


Committees: Government Study Committee


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(Appt. By Moderator ART 23, 2010)

Article 23: That the Town vote to direct the Moderator to appoint a Committee of seven citizens of the Town, knowledgeable in its affairs, one of whom will be designated by the Moderator as Chairman, to be known as the 2010 Committee to Review the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Town Government (also known as the 2010 Government Study Committee, which Committee shall examine all aspects of local government organization and structure, including, without limitation, regional relationships and the operation of all Town departments, boards, committees and commissions, elected and appointed, and recommend changes in such organization and structure, consonant with the traditional values of the Town, and designed to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of government services; which recommendations shall be made in a form suitable for consideration at the next Annual Town Meeting, or subsequent Town Meetings, and to authorize the Town to raise and appropriate the sum of $10,000 for the expenses of such Committee.

Important Documents

Hingham Citizens Survey Summary and Results - Spring 2011

GSC Process Phase 1

Survey Responses


Current Appointees
Judith M. Cole, Chair
Philip J. Edmundson
Edna S. English
Scott C. Ford
Irma H. Lauter
Alexander Macmillan
Eva Marx




2012 Annual Report

I. Introduction

By vote at the 2010 Annual Town Meeting, Hingham established the Committee to Review the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Town Government, more commonly referred to as the 2010 Government Study Committee ("GSC"). In December of 2011, the GSC prepared and submitted an Interim Report, a copy of which is attached at Exhibit A. This Final Report incorporates and expands upon the Interim Report.

II. GSC Process

Since constitution, the GSC held more than thirty committee and subcommittee public meetings, attended and participated in dozens of meetings of other Town boards and committees, and met with numerous Town officials. With the able and appreciated assistance of Kitty Ward and other devoted Town citizens, the GSC solicited input and feedback from almost 500 Town citizens via a survey that was well publicized by the Hingham Journal, the Town website, and a mailing from the Hingham Municipal Light Plant. The GSC also sent surveys to virtually every Town board and committee, and valuable input was received. Instructed by the results of these surveys, the GSC adopted an agenda that investigated, discussed and addressed the procedural and substantive issues set forth below. In sum, the GSC process was, while not perfect, deliberate, focused and comprehensive.

III. Interim Considerations And Recommendations

Between 2010 and 2013, the GSC addressed a wide range of issues and topics. Some matters resulted in formal support and recommendation, while others required nothing more than investigation and discussion. The specific issues and topics are identified and summarized as follows:

Treasurer/Collector. This issue seems perpetual as it continues to draw much attention. The Treasurer/Collector position is elected, and currently filled extremely ably. The concern about, and motivation for, proposing that the position be appointed is rooted in the notions that: (1) our Town finances have become too large and too complex to entrust to the variables of the popular process; and (2) a stronger pool of candidates may be available by opening the appointment process to non-residents. The GSC (like prior committees) recommended that the Town make the position appointed, understanding that this proposal represents an erosion of the democratic process. The GSC submitted a warrant article to this effect in 2012, which passed overwhelmingly at Town Meeting, only to fall eighteen votes short at the polls. The GSC believes that the ballot election outcome was due, in significant part, to the GSC's failure to fully inform the electorate. Accordingly, the GSC proposes that the measure be voted upon again in 2013, this time after a more comprehensive informational process.

Town Administrator/Town Manager. This issue also has received much attention over the years, particularly recently. A widely-held rationale for eliminating the Administrator role in favor of a Manager role is to allow the Board of Selectmen to focus less on administration and more on policy. As a general proposition, town managers have greater authority than town administrators, particularly with respect to personnel and appointment matters. Further, typically the pool of candidates for town manager positions is stronger than that for town administrator roles. But, as the GSC and a subcommittee on this topic examined the issues more closely, the choice between "Administrator" and "Manager" is not as simple as a mere title change. Instead, independent of any title designation, the specific duties delegated to the holder of that position must be clearly delineated, made public, and updated. Accordingly, the Town must first make clear what specific duties and powers are currently delegated to the Town Administrator, and the Town can then decide whether or not changes should be made, not so much to the title, but to the duties and powers. The GSC requested that the Board of Selectmen specifically identify and make public what duties and powers currently are held by the Town Administrator, and either this or a future committee should make a more informed recommendation on the issue. But at this time, the GSC does not believe there to be a compelling case or need to change the current title of this position, particularly because our Town is blessed by a strong, active and dedicated Board of Selectmen.

Board of Selectmen Size. After much investigation by the GSC and other devoted citizens, including speaking with Town officials and representatives of towns that had experienced changes in the size of the Board of Selectmen, the GSC decided that expanding the size from three to five members would not result in greater efficiency or effectiveness.

Community Planning Director. This position was created in 2011 to streamline the permitting and development process. The GSC, with the valuable input of other Town boards, reviewed the duties, responsibilities and powers of the position. This process resulted in revisions to the job description that more closely tracked the intent and purpose of the position and confined it to appropriately and properly delegated powers.

Sewer Department/DPW Consolidation. In 2011, Steve Dempsey led an effort to consolidate the day to day operations of the Public Works Department and Sewer Department under the direction of the Public Works Superintendent. The GSC studied this issue and supported the measure, which passed at Town Meeting. This model (having administrative functions delegated by elected boards) could be implemented in the future in other contexts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Town government.

Improved Warrant Submission. In 2011, the League of Women voters proposed changes to the warrant submission process so that it would become more organized, timely, and open and available to the voters. The GSC considered this proposal and supported it, which passed at Town Meeting.

Town Meeting Quorum. The GSC examined the Town's quorum requirement of 300 registered voters for Town Meeting. After discussion with Town officials and examination of the practices employed by neighboring and other so-called "benchmark" towns, the GSC recommended reducing the quorum from 300 to 200, and submitted a warrant article to that effect in 2012. The purpose of the recommendation was to make Town Meeting more efficient and effective by reducing the time necessary to wait for a quorum to be achieved. The measure failed by two votes. Given the tight vote and the importance of the issue, the GSC proposes in 2013 a slightly different article, this one mandating 300 registered voters at the beginning of the first night of Town Meeting, but reducing the number to 200 thereafter, including for subsequent nights (when it is even more difficult to achieve a quorum).

Reduced Speaking Times At Town Meeting. In 2011, a proposal was made to reduce the speaking time limits at Town Meeting. The purpose of the proposal was to make Town Meeting more efficient by, among other things, allowing for more viewpoints to be heard in a shorter period of time. The GSC examined this issue and supported it, which passed at Town Meeting.

Town Meeting Days. The GSC considered several proposals to mandate that Town Meeting be held on a Saturday. The GSC noted a number of advantages to the proposals, but overriding disadvantages as well, including, but not limited to, the potential conflict with religious services and youth sporting events.

Additional Town Meeting Issues. A number of additional proposals and suggestions relating to Town Meeting were considered by the GSC, including: changing to a representative (as opposed to open) Town Meeting, not reading every line item in Article 6 (budget), addressing warrant articles in a random order, alternating speakers (pro/con), establishing separate pro and con microphones, and having a "countdown clock" for speaking times. While each of these proposals has both advantages and disadvantages, the GSC determined that none was so compelling as to warrant immediate implementation.

Field Management. In 2012, the Board of Selectmen entered into an agreement to allow the Recreation Commission to maintain oversight, including scheduling, for the fields under the jurisdiction of the Selectmen. The GSC supported this measure, as it yields efficiency.

Building and Facilities Committee. In 2011, Jerry Seelen led an effort to create a Town-wide permanent building and facilities management committee that would assess the condition of each Town building, and provide planning for and management of every significant project related to these and new buildings. While there was some discussion about how the proposed committee would work with the Capital Outlay Committee, the GSC generally supported the intent to create this comprehensive committee, since it would lead to better planning and greater efficiency. This measure is expected to be revived by the Board of Selectmen, and the GSC applauds that effort.

Term Limits. The GSC considered the proposal submitted to Town Meeting in 2011 that would have imposed a six consecutive year limit on those holding positions of Town Moderator, School Committee and Board of Selectmen. While the GSC considered and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal, ultimately, Town Counsel determined that the measure was not legal, and thus the GSC took no formal position on it.

Regionalization. The GSC discussed a number of concepts relating to regionalization, focused primarily on cost savings. While the GSC endorsed the concept generally, no specific regionalization proposals were submitted by or to the GSC.

Electronic Voting. This issue received a significant amount of attention in 2012 and 2013. Given the benefits (accuracy, efficiency, and privacy), the GSC submitted a warrant article for 2013 to create a subcommittee to examine the issue further.

Appointed/Elected Board Positions. Additional changes can be considered and made to a number of positions that currently are elected. The GSC made no formal recommendations in this regard, but for the Treasurer/Collector position, but future committees may wish to examine this area further.

IV. Prospective Recommendations

Going forward, the GSC recommends that the Town continue to consider a number of matters that were raised, but not resolved, during this committee's term, including: (1) electronic voting; (2) the powers delegated to the Administrator/Manager; (3) a comprehensive building/facilities committee; (4) elimination of dormant committees and boards; (5) further implementation of regionalization efforts, term limits; (6) management of the Town's legal needs and budget; and (7) changing other positions from elected to appointed.

V. Conclusion

Despite the Town's growth, there remains a general and deeply-rooted resistance to sudden change; instead, the culture of our Town has been and remains one that embraces change slowly over time. Consistent with this mindset, the GSC has not recommended any major modifications to Town government structure. This approach is perhaps best supported by the fact that Hingham is a very well-run municipality, something that is respected by many other towns in the Commonwealth. But, our Town government is not perfect, and some of the recommendations of the GSC will help to improve upon some of the shortcomings. Going forward, the Town must remain true to certain core principles and goals, including and especially: transparency, efficiency, respect, and a full and open democratic process. The GSC is deeply appreciative of the public participation and input it received during its tenure, and it would like to further and specifically thank Irma Lauter, who served on the committee from inception until her election to the Board of Selectmen in 2011.

Respectfully submitted,
Judy Cole, Chair
Eva Marx
Phil Edmundson
Edna English
Scott Ford
Alexander Macmillan
Linda Port