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Town Meeting

Town meetings are a form of direct democracy.


In Massachusetts, municipalities with fewer than 6,000 residents are required to have open town meetings (SOC, nd). All eligible voters are invited to attend the annual town meetings and participate in town policymaking. Town meetings act as the legislative body of a town; select board members and a town manager or administrator, if the town employs one, serve as the executive branch (MMA, 2018).


A municipality must hold its annual town meeting by June 30th and may hold a second “special” town meeting in the fall. At annual town meetings, eligible voters authorize and appropriate annual operating and capital budgets for their town. Proposed bylaws and zoning changes are typically reviewed in the fall at “special” town meetings.


A town “warrant” or agenda approved by the select board must be published at least seven days before the annual town meeting and fourteen days before a special town meeting.


Select boards are comprised of a small group of elected individuals, typically three to five members (MMA, 2018). Although select boards are unable to exercise the powers granted to town meetings, they are responsible for important decisions such as:

  • Preparing and approving the town meeting warrant

  • Appointing members to boards, commissions, and committees

  • Hiring administrative staff and town counsel

  • Granting licenses and permits

  • Signing warrants for the payment of town bills


A town manager or administrator serves as the chief administrative officer. Town managers and administrators are responsible for:

  • Appointing department heads and other employees

  • Preparing the town budget

  • Awarding contracts

  • The day-to-day municipal operations



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