Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
Nearly 1,200 selectmen and select board members serve in 292 towns in Massachusetts. The Select Board Association was established in 1929 as the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association, and the name was changed in 2020 to reflect a movement among towns to adopt a gender-neutral name for their elected policy board. The MSA provides opportunities for these town policy makers to network and share ideas, pursue educational opportunities, meet with state leaders and subject-matter experts, and participate in the advocacy work of the MMA.
• The Massachusetts Select Board Association will hold its next Annual Business Meeting on January 23, 2021.
The board of selectmen is the group in town that 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. If there is a professional town manager or administrator, the selectmen generally work through him or her; in other towns, the selectmen work through department heads.
The Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association is dedicated to promoting the role of selectmen in the performance of their duties as executive officers and through the development of best practices and procedures in municipal administration that support well-governed communities.
About the Office of Selectman
The position of selectman/select board member is steeped in nearly 400 years of tradition. Though they earn only a small stipend, if anything, for their work on behalf of their hometowns, selectmen have played significant roles over the years in shaping the future of their communities. They are looked to – by citizens and local government employees alike – for leadership and integrity, particularly in difficult times. Local government has changed dramatically since colonial times, but selectmen continue to be seen as the leaders of an increasingly complex enterprise.
The office of selectman was not imported from England but evolved here. Early in the history of the Commonwealth, town meetings would periodically “select” prominent citizens to perform the business of the town between town meetings. In 1633, Dorchester (now part of Boston) was the first New England town to organize a local government, choosing 12 men as selectmen. Other Massachusetts towns quickly adopted this unique form of government.
Colonial laws in Massachusetts gave selectmen significant authority over town finances, care of the poor, schools, admission of new residents into the town, roads and other public works, land regulation, local defense, and the appointment of other town officials not elected by the town meeting. In colonial times, most “executive” business of towns was conducted by the board of selectmen. As Massachusetts grew and the activities of towns became increasingly sophisticated, selectmen were assigned greater responsibilities and authority while new, independent elected officers and boards were entrusted with specialized functions.
A board of selectmen (or select board) operates as a collective decision-making body. The legal authority of selectmen is limited to actions taken by the board at a legally called, posted meeting with a majority of the board present. If a board member wants to accomplish specific objectives, he or she must find a way to work with the other members of the board and with other boards in 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.
Generally, boards of selectmen have at least several important responsibilities under state law:
If you are a selectman/select board member in Massachusetts, you are already a member. Please join us at upcoming MSA events.
There are also up to 14 county representatives on the MSA Executive Committee.
District 1: Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties
District 2: Essex and Middlesex counties
District 3: Bristol, Norfolk and Suffolk counties
District 4: Barnstable, Dukes, Nantucket and Plymouth counties
District 5: Worcester County
Have a question about the Select Board Association, the role of selectmen, or town government? Contact Member Services Coordinator Isabelle Nichols using this form.