As a 35-year resident of Andover, I was pleased when Town Manager Andrew Flanagan last spring was courageous in acknowledging what large numbers of people in town have been saying for many years now - that what worked as our form of town governance when Andover was a quaint small town is no longer appropriate given the size to which it has grown over the past 50 years.
Flanagan’s convening of a Town Governance Committee to examine what works and what does not work under our Town Charter and bylaws, and to make specific recommendations on needed changes in the charter and in our bylaws for all registered voters to vote on at Town Meeting in 2021, is recognition that Andover is already larger than at least 16 cities in Massachusetts and on par in size with at least 20 others. Yet it still tries to govern itself as though it were as small a town as it was during the 18th and 19th centuries, when all residents could get together, like a social gathering, to make governance decisions.
In just financial terms, Andover now has budgets, financial obligations and unfunded liabilities that are in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and which are far greater than those of most cities in the U.S. Yet, it has a form of municipal governance designed and intended for small communities.
So as the 13 states realized back in 1786, as the Articles of Confederation were failing in several ways, and convened, in 1787, what we now refer to as the Constitutional Convention to address those issues, this committee is Andover’s constitutional convention.
To our lasting benefit, the delegates at our national Constitutional Convention were unafraid to rewrite the Articles of Confederation and create a new constitution to address their shortcomings. We all benefited from their courage 233 years ago to challenge and take on the status quo.
So too, it is hoped, this committee will be unafraid to recommend specific changes to the status quo for voters to act on at the 2021 Town Meeting, changes that will improve the means and mode of our municipal governance now that Andover has outgrown our being a small town.
Delegates to the national Constitutional Convention of 1787 knew their recommendation — a new Constitution for the country, not some minor tweaks to the Articles of Confederation — would see serious opposition from protectors of the then status quo. Even Revolutionary War heroes and luminaries such as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams vocally opposed and lobbied against ratification of the new Constitution.
That is why James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, delegates to the Constitutional Convention, went to great length to educate the public and all of the state legislatures, which would be voting as to whether or not to adopt this new Constitution.
They authored and published their very learned Federalist Papers over a period of several months after the convention completed its work. These published articles addressed what the problems were with the status quo; the changes in the mode of governance that the proposed Constitution contained; and why, based on studies of various forms of governance, the changes in governance incorporated in the new Constitution were beneficial to the new country.
Since it is inevitable that there will be defenders of the status quo who speak out to oppose changes to the charter and bylaws that Andover’s committee proposes, I urge the committee take a page from Madison, Hamilton and Jay. Several months before Town Meeting in 2021, where its recommended changes are to be voted upon, the committee should publish a series of articles in all the local newspapers and online outlets explaining the “why” behind every change it proposes.
This will enable voters to be well informed before we are asked to vote on the proposed changes to the charter and bylaws.
There is no question that Town Meeting in 2021 will be the most important Andover Town Meeting in decades, certainly during the 35 years that my wife and I have lived in town.
I ask the committee to find a way to get every possible registered voter to the 2021 Town Meeting where its recommendations are to be acted upon.
These should not be matters voted upon merely by the typical, small, insider clique of voters who show up at Town Meetings. They should go before at least several thousand registered voters in order for the vote, whichever way the votes go on each item, to be representationally significant.
This needs to be a Town Meeting that has the largest turnout ever.