Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
|59 Cities||292 Towns|
|Executive:Mayor, Manager, or both||Executive:Select Board
Most also have a professional manager (such as a Town Manager)
|Legislative branch:Council||Legislative branch:Town Meeting|
If it has Town Meeting, it must be a town.
The Massachusetts Constitution makes a distinction between a “city form of government” and a “town” form, but a community with a city form is not required to refer to itself as a city.
Fourteen communities with a city structure still refer to themselves as a town.
These places are sometimes described as “the city known as the town of X.”
They use the term “Town Council” for their legislative body.
Decisions about which form of government to adopt — including whether to be a city or a town — are made by local voters. Under the Massachusetts Constitution, a municipality must have at least 12,000 people to adopt a city form of government, but there’s no upper limit on the size of a town.
Select Boards are the chief executive body in a town. Their formal, legal responsibilities are spread throughout hundreds of state laws, as well as the town’s bylaws, its home rule charter, and special acts enacted by the Legislature for a particular town.
While selectmen are the principal administrative officers of the town, other boards, including the school committee, the planning board, and the board of health, may wield at least as much authority over certain aspects of town government.
Apart from strict legal responsibilities, the Select Board sets policy and strategic direction, coordinates the activities of other boards, and hears appeals and resolves problems that have not been settled at lower levels.
*With the exception of those union employees in the School Department, which are approved by the School Committee
*Wakefield has a seven-member “Town Council,” but its duties are essentially the same as those of a Select Board.
**In Saugus, Select Board members are elected biennially, in the fall (of odd-numbered years), for two-year terms.
The first Board of Selectmen in Massachusetts was established in 1633 in Dorchester (then independent of Boston).
While Select Boards and City Councils are the highest-level elected boards in their communities, their roles and responsibilities are not at all similar.
Select Boards are the chief executive in a town, while Councils are the legislative body in a city.
Their similarity ends with the fact that they are elected by local voters in a municipal election.
The word “Town Meeting” can refer to both the event and the legislative body. As an event, one might say, “The spring Town Meeting will begin next Tuesday”; and as a body, “The budget must be approved by a vote of the Town Meeting.”
Believed to be the oldest form of democracy in the United States, Town Meetings predate the American Revolution by more than a century. It is a rare continuing form of direct democracy in the U.S., found only in New England states.
State law requires every town to have an annual Town Meeting.
* Some towns hold these on an as-needed basis, while others hold them as a matter of routine. Special Town Meetings typically have a much shorter agenda than the annual ones. There is no limit on the number of Special Town Meetings a town can hold in any given year, though in most cases it’s just one.
The mayor is the highest-ranking official in a city government and serves as the chief executive officer.
The powers of a mayor vary from one city to the next, but generally they:
* In Cambridge and Lowell, mayors are selected by the City Council from among its members.
City Councils act as the legislative branch in communities with a city form of government, as well as the policymaking body. Whereas Town Meeting is a form of direct democracy, the City Council is a representative body, somewhat like a local version of Congress.
Note: 14 Massachusetts communities with a city form of government still refer to themselves as a town, and thus have a Town Council, but the distinction is in name only.
*except in Barnstable and Winthrop, where they have four-year terms
**except Newton’s Council, which has 24 members
The Town Manager or Administrator (among other titles) is the chief administrative officer in a town.
The powers, duties, and responsibilities of a town management position are determined and defined locally, by a special act approved by the Legislature or the town charter.
Most Town Managers have delegated appointment authority, authority for the direction of the budget and capital plan process, responsibility for coordinating financial operations, and other duties as assigned by the Select Board.
Twelve communities in Massachusetts have a city form of government but do not have a Mayor; they have a city (or “town”) manager as their chief administrative officer.
These 12 communities are:
Three communities have a Mayor as well as a City Manager:
Much like Town Managers, the powers, duties and responsibilities of the manager are determined and defined locally.
Most have delegated appointment authority, authority for the direction of the budget and capital plan process, responsibility for coordinating financial operations, and other duties as assigned by the Council.
The position of City or Town Clerk is one of the oldest in municipal government, and the clerk’s office is considered a focal point of city and town halls.
Every city and town must have a clerk.
Some are elected and some are appointed.
Clerks provide information and work with all municipal departments, boards and committees, while complying with state and local statutes.
Town Clerks serve as the official record keeper at Town Meetings. They submit documentation for all post-Town Meeting requirements, including bylaw changes to the Office of the Attorney General, debt authorizations to the Department of Revenue, and state law adoptions to the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
City Clerks are the official minute takers for the City Council. They maintain the City Council document system database and publish, on a yearly basis, all ordinances and amended codes.
With very rare exceptions, municipal elections are held separately from statewide and federal elections.
Interesting note: Saugus is the only town in Massachusetts that follows a city election schedule.
For governor, attorney general, U.S. Congress, and other state, federal and county offices and ballot questions
For mayors, councils, select boards, and other local offices
Candidates have a party affiliation
Nonpartisan — With only a handful of exceptions, municipal election candidates are not affiliated with a political party, and there is no such designation on the ballot.