Woodrow Wilson's Legacy in Falmouth

Charter Review - A Chance for Citizen Input

In addition to being our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson is also distinguished as the father of public administration.  He was President of Princeton University before he took on the free world as his classroom, and as the only President with an earned PhD, he was the first to explore public administration, that is, the peoples’ business as a professional pursuit, as a legitimate and important field of study. 

Much of what politicians, public servants, and pundits alike debate and discuss today has its roots in the Wilsonian study of public administration. In considering the status of the administration of government a century ago, Wilson noted that, “There is scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; it now has scores of masters. Majorities formerly only underwent government; they now conduct government. Where government once might follow the whims of a court, it must now follow the views of a nation.”

His thoughts on the ever-expanding complexity of government and the need for competent professionals to manage its many facets and figures, rings true yet today. 

In fact, on the local level, particularly here in New England, where our Town Meeting-based governments keep the democratic process truly democratic, the task of public administrators has become more complex and much more of a balancing act between management and leadership.  

The seeming incongruity between a fully democratic governing process and professional oversight of the peoples’ business is actually based in a learned skill of harmonizing the rights and desires of citizens to have access to decisions and doing the homework and effectively communicating to help lead them to good results.

Here in Falmouth, seeking that balance and determining the roles and responsibilities of our public administrators has once again landed on the “to-do” list of our Charter Review Committee.  In accordance with our town charter, our blueprint for running our local government, the document and the framework it created must be reviewed every seven years.  This is the third such review since our iteration of local democracy was created in 1990 and implemented the following year. 

The previous reviews in 1997 and 2004 resulted in minor tweaks to the charter, but improvements nonetheless.  Based on the content and tenor of local discussions in the last couple of years, this septennial review is likely to produce more robust proposals that have the potential to have a significant impact on the way we’re governed.  Wilson also noted that, “It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one.”  Indeed.  Running a government is a daunting and complex undertaking.  The task to determine that method of governing is as well.

I’m not advocating at this point for a slap-dash rush to a mayoral conclusion...
just planting the seed.
A few years ago, I discussed this discourse in one of my columns, noting that, “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 to mayor or considering it, 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.”  Those thoughts offered about a thousand days ago are most certainly relevant to the current conversation.

I’m not advocating at this point for a slap-dash rush to a mayoral conclusion, just planting the seed for a discussion as the Charter Review Committee charts its course.  When they knock on your door, send an email, or ask for your opinion at Stop & Shop, please take the time to provide your input.  Good government is based in good governance.  Good governance is based in an informed and active citizenry.

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