No More Town Manager? Bennington Voters To Weigh In On Shift To Mayoral Government

Mar 2, 2018

There could be a governmental shift coming to Bennington. On Town Meeting Day, voters will decide if the town should elect a mayor, instead of sticking with the town manager system that's currently in place.

The issue has fired up some passionate discussion on social media, and there have been accusations of lawn signs being taken down around town.

The article got onto Bennington's Town Meeting Day warning when proponents gathered enough signatures to put the question before voters.

The Town Meeting Day vote is binding, and it would change Bennington's charter and give a new mayor the widespread authority to direct town business.

"It would grant too much power to an executive branch," says Aaron Sawyer, who lives in Bennington and is a member of the group Citizens Against Article 2. "The proposal as it reads grants the mayor the ability of a full override of our current selectboard system."

Sawyer's group has been printing signs and working to convince Bennington residents to vote "no" on the Town Meeting Day ballot — and that's opened him up to some pretty ugly accusations across social media.

Sawyer says while he understands that passions are running high on both sides, the online chatter does tend to drown out any real civic discourse.

"It becomes harder to talk about the actual issue," Sawyer says, since people tend "to get entrenched in the social media fight of the day about it, instead of what's actually at stake here. And it's a pretty large change to our town governance."

Jennifer Mayhew's family has been in Bennington a long time. She thinks it's time for a change, though she's also been disappointed in some of the online tirades.

"People are frustrated," she says. "And with frustration, and they're passionate, sometimes it doesn't come out as eloquently as it should."

Mayhew says the way things are set up now, the town manager can only take action on big issues after the selectboard votes on it first.

She says Bennington needs a strong mayor who can make decisions without waiting for a part-time selectboard to come to consensus.

"Right now we have a system where the selectboard — great people, but it's a part-time job — they meet twice a month," Mayhew says. "And a town that's growing like Bennington is, you really need that full-time person to lead, to cheerlead, to manage, and be that figure, if you will, for Bennington."

The one thing both sides can agree on is that it's a little unclear what would happen with a "yes" vote.

The town meeting warning says the mayor would have the power to make-or-break a tie, and veto any action of the selectboard. And so people who want to keep the current form of government say that would give too much power to someone who could be elected without the proper training or education.

But supporters say a "yes" vote would only be the first step, and that the town would be able to take all the time it needs to come up with a mayoral system that works for Bennington.