Civics 101: On Selectmen Boards

My apologies for the long absence. We are living in unusual times and I didn’t think that many people were interested in town governance as we entered the Age of COVID-19. But we adjust to everything in due time, and town business must go on. A tad late, but no less useful: a bit about Selectmen Boards.

In some Connecticut towns, legislative decisions are made in gatherings known as Town Meeting, but the day-to-day operations of towns require an executive branch. When towns grew too large for a small group of families to decide what to do, a group of men were selected to make those decisions. Hence, the Board of Selectmen. Of course today, anybody 18 or older of any gender can be a selectman.

In Easton, the Board of Selectmen meets twice a month on the first and third Thursdays. Typically at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. Anybody can attend the public session of these meetings.

The chief executive of our town is the first selectman. The first selectman sets the agenda based on the input of the other selectmen. The first selectman’s duties include, but are not limited to, handling tax refunds, appointments to boards and commissions, and issues brought to the board’s attention by residents and those elected to boards.

There is always public comment at the start and end of selectmen meetings. This is because the Board of Selectmen allows it. This is not the case at all town board meetings. The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act requires that people be able to view/attend meetings, but public comment is not a necessary feature.

A friendly note: If you attend, comment on the agenda only. Public comment is not the best time to introduce new business or wounded feelings. Why? Because meetings would go on for hours and those in attendance would never get home to their families.

If you want to get an item on the agenda, call the administrative assistant to the first selectman, Janet Haller: 203-268-6291 during Town Hall business hours. There is no formal petition process to get on a Board of Selectmen agenda. You simply need to ask or send an email. Janet Haller can be contacted electronically here. Just click on her name.

The first selectman has office hours throughout the week. Call or email the office before stopping by, so you can be sure the first selectman is in and available to meet with you.

If the selectmen have the power to help you via the board, they will. Or they will help you find the person in town with the power to help you.

Even if your cause is just, you can’t show up at a meeting and change the agenda. Avoid embarrassment or anger or disappointment by planning ahead and making your request ahead of the meeting. The process is in place to keep the gears of government in motion. Nobody is trying to silence you.

So how do you know what is on the agenda? Well, the agendas are always posted on the town website: And so are the post-meeting minutes. (Minutes are a record of what transpired at a meeting). You can also watch the meeting on Government Channel 79 Meeting Videos. And, you can subscribe to Town News, Agendas and Minutes for the Board of Selectmen on the town website.

The town is trying to stream live meetings on the website as well.

As you can see, if you want to know what’s going on in town, the power to do so is firmly in your hands  — whether you attend a meeting or not. It is very much in your interest to stay informed. No decisions impact your life, your town, or your community more than the ones made locally.

Meetings typically follow Robert’s Rules of Order. This 19th century parliamentary meeting guide was designed to codify how people across the country ran meetings. It has been widely adopted. Here is a summary of the Rules. You can buy the complete rules for $0.99 here. But easier-to-read (and slightly more pricey) versions are available on Amazon.

In Easton, a person can run for first selectmen or just selectman. The winner of the race for first selectman becomes first selectmen. The second place finisher goes into the pool of those running for selectmen and can become a selectman if they have enough votes. The board cannot be made up of only one political party. The rules require representation from each major party.

The first selectman is paid $60,000 a year. The others are not paid. The first selectman has a two-year term with no hourly or weekly work requirement. There is no term limit. Some first selectmen work full-time. Others have daytime jobs elsewhere. The job usually takes about 20 hours a week at a minimum. More during budget season. Less during the quieter summer months. All selectmen have two-year terms in Easton.

What does the the first selectman do? This person manages the town, oversees the boards and departments, and is the human resources head for the town. The first selectman signs legal documents, oversees the police and fire departments —although those departments are really overseen by their autonomous commissions.

But the power of the Board of Selectmen is limited. While the first selectmen sets the Board of Selectmen’s budget, the other town budgets are approved by the first selectman and then the Board of Finance. The Board of Education budget is a bit more complicated and we will address that in another column.

I hope this helps you, fine citizen, expand your understanding of how the Board of Selectmen operates. As I said above: this largely volunteer board is here to help you. Not to do things secretly. Not to take over your rights or town. In a town the size of Easton with little commerce (and very little to steal), these honorable neighbors are spending many nights away from family to make our town a better place.

And, you have many, many opportunities to follow every aspect of what they do and to say if you approve or disapprove. The more you know, the less mysterious the process is, and the more likely it becomes that you will appreciate their efforts. Get involved. Towns are strong because the people who live in them make them that way.

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