I have lived in Suffield since late 1984. I worked in the Suffield Public Schools for 23 years as a school administrator and was Acting Superintendent of Schools in 2016. I have served on the Board of Selectmen for four years, and still have another one and half years left on my term.
In 1984-85 when I arrived in Suffield, the annual town expenses not including debt or school budget were $3,970,902 according to the 1984-85 Annual Town Report. This year the Selectmen are recommending a budget approaching $16 million, subject to approval by the Finance Board and a vote at the Town Meeting.
I have watched, worked, and met with all of the First Selectman over the past 30 years. A common denominator that I have seen in all of the selectmen is their commitment to Suffield. They have been dedicated politicians, trying their best to do what Suffield needed at the time.
It has become apparent that regardless of their commitment, it is time Suffield take a serious look at changing our form of government. It’s time to look at creating a new administrative structure to govern the town. The Suffield town charter says that the only qualifications needed to be a First Selectman are to be a resident of the town and be over 21 years old. It doesn’t spell out how long you need to be a resident or any skills or experiences.
During the past 34 years, I have seen a turnover in the First Selectman position about every two-three years. Each First Selectman brings a set of skills and experiences that may or may not be relevant. Every time a new First Selectman is elected, there is a long learning curve. Many holding the position had no experience managing any organization, supervising employees, negotiating contracts, working in the public sector, dealing with the public, or creating and managing a budget close to $16 million.
It’s time for Suffield to create a charter revision committee that researches and recommends a form of government suitable for 2018 and the future. It’s time for Suffield to modernize its government. No business with a $16 million budget would be run by a president (with limited management experience) who changes every two years.
The last charter revision committee in 2014 did not address this issue. In fact, they were told not to deal with it. The Suffield Town Charter says we should convene a charter revision committee about every five years or so. It’s about time that we do a serious and thoughtful examination of our town governing system.
I urge residents to speak at the Board of Selectmen meetings and request that the Board of Selectmen create a charter revision committee. The charter revision committee should focus on our governing system. Whatever they recommend must go to the Board of Selectmen for approval and ultimately to a town meeting for its approval.