Is it time for a Mayor?

The "threshold question" of 2009

It's an idea that has been whispered, but never really considered.

It's a thought that might be offered at a gathering of locals at Liam's but never in the Lawrence Auditorium. It is simply one of those oft-spoken unspeakables whose time has come. The League of Women Voters political establishment may not offer their blessing, but the time has finally come to have an open and honest debate on the threshold local question of 2009: Is it time to consider a mayor?

There. I said it. Many have considered committing this cardinal sin of an offering by making the suggestion that Falmouth look at changing its three-centuries old selectmen/town meeting form of government, but never dared lest they incur the wrath of the traditionalists deep in each of our villages.

When the wave swept across Massachusetts a couple of decades ago and the realization that full-time boards of selectmen needed to yield to professional managers, Falmouth came a little late to the party, waiting until 1991 to finally usher in an era of change and modernization. With similar sized communities now having made the transition (Weymouth, Braintree) to mayor or considering it (Plymouth, Barnstable), isn't now the time to at least open a dialogue and debate the opportunities in having a single, accountable person at the helm of our local government and its $100 million budget?

I not only write on our local goings-on each week, I listen. I listen to the people who offer their thoughts, from the post office to the box office, from the barber shop to the body shop. People from all walks of life have been in a funk when it comes to Town Hall for some time, and I'm finally realizing that it just may very well be that the time has come to vest our confidence and trust in a single individual.

Falmouth is bound by its charter to re-examine its form of government every seven years but is not precluded from doing so more often. Our last local review was a somewhat cursory glance at our government blueprint, resulting in a few semantic changes that had little impact on the everyday lives of Falmouthites. Having a mayor to call on when the streets need plowing would.

I would hate to lose our town meeting, which is a near-perfect form of representative democracy, but our local version has been stagnated by people who have stayed too long and are not willing to listen to anything outside their village-centered paradigm. Perhaps even the discussion of a mayoral form of government would awaken the curiosity and passion inside some of these immovable objects, inspire some young voters to dip their toes in the local democracy waters and bring this body back to its open and lively former self.

And what of our current executive branch? Would not a mayor eliminate the decision-making malaise that has plagued this group? I suspect at the very least a spirited discussion of the merits of having a mayor would serve to return some accountability to the five who some weeks seem to have forgotten the nature of their arrival to power - an affirmation by the voters themselves.

I am not making the point that we need a mayor. That discussion - that conclusion - must be made by a much wider audience than this pundit. I am, though, offering the thought that the time has come to ask the question that helped make a president: "Are you better off than you were four (or three, or 10) years ago?" If your answer is no, then the time has also come to ask the next one. Are we ready? Is it time?

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Bulletin

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