The Board of Selectmen has six specific areas of authority that are quite important to the town. These include:
The power to prepare the town meeting warrant and call town meetings. Voters at town meeting make most important decisions for the town, including setting budgets and passing bylaws. The Board of Selectmen decides what is put on the warrant for voter consideration. In 1715, the General Court passed a law defining the process for citizens to call town meetings and set warrant articles, but this is generally done by the selectmen.
The power to make appointments to town boards and offices. The Board of Selectmen makes appointments of dozens of individuals to an array of positions, boards and committees. The Board of Selectmen seeks to ensure that the appointment process is open and fair. Appointments are generally made by the board in June of each year and when vacancies occur.
The power to employ town counsel. No town official can be defended, nor can he or she bring suit through the town counsel without the Board of Selectmen’s approval. Town counsel must also approve any agreement that binds the town legally. This does not apply to the school committee, which ahs specific authorization to employ and select its own counsel.
The power to employ professional administrative staff. The complexity of running even a small town can be overwhelming to a part-time Board of Selectmen. Once authorized by town meeting, a professional administrator can assist in this task.
The power to sign warrants for the payment of all town bills. The Town Treasurer cannot issue a check unless the Board of Selectmen signs a warrant of authorization. This affects the town’s payroll as well as payments to all other vendors. Department heads and other boards and commissions may approve whatever they choose, but without Board of Selectmen approval, the bills cannot be paid. This gives the Board of Selectmen an important role in overseeing the operation of the town.
The authority to grant licenses and permits. The Board of Selectmen is the local licensing authority, issuing licenses for things such as sale of alcoholic beverages, entertainment, automobile dealers, pool tables and the like. These are subject to an annual renewal process that generally occurs in December.
Besides these strict legal responsibilities, the Board of Selectmen plays an important role in coordinating the policy and strategic direction of the town. This can occur in many ways, including coordination of other boards activities, hearing appeals and resolving problems that are not resolved at lower levels, and offering direction to their professional administrator. Members of the Board of Selectmen are the chief elected officers of the town and the tone of its behavior often sets the overall tone of town government.
The Town of Monson has a three-member Board of Selectmen with staggered three-year terms so that each year a member’s term expires and the townspeople select someone to serve in this capacity. Professional staff that work for the Board of Selectmen include the town administrator, town counsel, and a full-time secretary/assistant.