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Soares Explains Petition to Increase Number of Selectmen

Milford resident Michael Soares used the Board of Selectmen's "Invitation to Speak" on March 20 to do just that – speak to the board about why he used a citizens' petition to place an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant that seeks to increase the number of selectmen from its current three to five members.

Right now, 148 communities in Massachusetts have three board members, 145 have five members and one has seven members, Soares said. Milford is the largest town in Massachusetts having only three selectmen, he added.

Referring to Selectman William Buckley's question on March 7 about what problem would the increased membership would solve, Soares noted he is not fixing a problem. "I think five is better," he said, calling the increased board "a better approach." When

a challenger faces off against an existing selectman, he has to "take him down," Soares explained. "I think it [a five-member board] makes our elections a little more civil, he said. Instead of attacking each other, more candidates running for more seats would focus more on issues, Soares said. The School Committee, he said, has seven seats,

and candidates for that board tend to focus on issues. A second reason Soares gave for increasing the number of selectmen was diversity. "I believe it leads to a more diverse and representative board," he said noting towns with more than three selectmen tend to include women. A third reason he gave was eliminating conflicts of interest and

the potential to violate open meeting laws. "It makes for a more efficient Board of Selectmen," he said. For example, if one board member has a conflict of interest there could be a deadlocked vote of the remaining two members. Or, if one member is absent from a meeting at which a critical issue is being discussed, the topic often is delayed until the full board is sitting, Soares explained. A larger board reduces the likelihood of not being able to discuss or vote on a topic, he added.

In terms of open meeting laws, two members now cannot have private conversations about an issue, because that would constitute a majority of the board and be a violation. With five members, any two could meet privately to hash out an issue, Soares noted.

Finally, Soares pointed out, Town Meeting Members will not make the final decision. A "yes" vote at the Annual Town Meeting would send the issue before all of Milford's voters at the next Annual Town Election in April, 2020.

"In general citizens' petitions should have their day at Town Meeting," Buckley

said. He recommended that Soares be ready to give Town Meeting Members specific examples that back up his reasoning. "I want to hear the dialogue at Town Meting," he said. If the board does increase to five members, "It probably means longer meetings," Buckley added. Selectman William Kingkade said. "It's a citizens' petition. I think it should be debated at Town Meeting and a decision made."


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