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Town Meeting: Enfield group looks to end town manager position

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2021 9:48:40 PM
Modified: 3/4/2021 9:48:37 PM

ENFIELD — A group of residents is advocating for Enfield to do away with its town manager system of government in favor of one that reserves more responsibilities for elected officials.

A petitioned warrant article on next week’s Town Meeting ballot asks voters to abolish the town manager position implemented 25 years ago.

Members of the Selectboard, however, want to keep the current system.

Supporters of the article say the town manager’s job — which by law has hiring and firing power, can pay the town’s bills and set salaries — is too expensive and accountable to too few.

Instead, they’d prefer to hire a town administrator whose job would be defined by the three-member Selectboard, which could then take a greater role in managing Enfield’s day-to-day business.

“If citizens have a problem with a town manager they have no authority to do anything,” said Dwight Marchetti, a retired Lebanon police captain who signed the petition. “If they’re disgruntled with the selectmen, they can vote them out of office.”

Marchetti, who also drafted the 1996 article switching Enfield to a town manager system, pointed out that Ryan Aylesworth, Enfield’s last permanent town manager, had a base salary of $109,000. Meanwhile, Canaan Town Administrator Mike Samson is slated to make $76,129 next year, according to that community’s proposed budget. (Enfield has a population of 4,565, while Canaan’s is 3,910).

Moving to a system similar to Canaan also would put more power in the hands of the Selectboard, which Marchetti believes is a more democratic way to handle town business.

“In that process, we would have three decision-makers who could think about an issue compared to one town manager,” he said. “You’ve got three people that will be steering issues instead of one.”

One of the lead organizers of the article was Donald Crate, whose family has long been active with the fire department. (Crate has declined comment in the past and could not be reached Thursday). Aylesworth, during his tenure, helped lead an effort to do away with the town’s system of elected fire wards and institute a system where the town manager would oversee the fire chief. Voters approved the change at 2019 Town Meeting.

And it’s not certain that switching back to a town administrator would deliver much benefit, according to Interim Town Manager Jack Wozmak.

Pay is largely dependent on what experience an applicant brings to the position and what responsibilities they’re tasked with, said Wozmak, the former longtime Cheshire County administrator.

“It comes down to the question of community standards, whether they want someone who comes with more background education and experience,” he said.

Wozmak added that both town administrators and managers aren’t supposed to act unilaterally. No matter what their official role is, both are supposed to build consensus and work with the Selectboard, he said.

“I think personally that the town manager role is the best way to go,” Wozmak said while comparing the town to a multimillion-dollar business that requires full-time direction.

Current Selectboard members also oppose the move to a town administrator.

“Getting together a team of 3 people to potentially handle daily operations is potentially cumbersome at best,” Selectboard Chairwoman Kate Stewart said in a post on the town’s Listserv. “Having a full-time Town Manager provides Enfield with professional, financial, and operations oversight, and balances power and responsibility between the BOS and the Town Manager.”

Sam Eaton, Stewart’s challenger in this year’s election, has also come out against the proposed change.

In the meantime, Enfield officials are continuing the search for a new town manager.

Wozmak said a committee of volunteers plans to interview five candidates this weekend. The top three will be recommended to the Selectboard, which hopes to conduct interviews in mid-March.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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