Board of selectmen

The board of selectmen or select board is commonly the executive arm of the government of New England towns in the United States. The board typically consists of three or five members, with or without staggered terms. Three is the most common number, historically.[1] In some places, a first selectman is appointed to head the board, often by election.

Board of Selectmen
A New England town board of selectmen meeting


In most New England towns, the adult voting population gathered annually in a town meeting to act as the local legislature, approving budgets and laws. Day-to-day operations were originally left to individual oversight, but when towns became too large for individuals to handle such work loads, they would elect an executive board of, literally, select(ed) men to run things for them.

These men had charge of the day-to-day operations; selectmen were important in legislating policies central to a community's police force, highway supervisors, poundkeepers, field drivers, and other officials. However, the larger towns grew, the more power would be distributed among other elected boards, such as fire wardens and police departments. For example, population increases led to the need for actual police departments, of which selectmen typically became the commissioners. The advent of tarred roads and automobile traffic led to a need for full-time highway maintainers and plowmen, leaving selectmen to serve as Supervisors of Streets and Ways.[2]


The function of the board of selectmen differs from state to state, and can differ within a given state depending on the type of governance under which a town operates. Selectmen almost always serve part-time, with a token or no salary. It is the chief executive branch of local government in the open town meeting form of government.

The basic function consists of calling town meetings, proposing budgets to Town Meeting, setting public policy, calling elections, licensing, setting certain fees, overseeing certain volunteer and appointed bodies, and creating basic regulations.

In larger towns, the selectmen's daily administrative duties are delegated to a full-time town administrator or town manager. In some towns, the board of selectmen acts more like a city council, but retains the historic name.

In some places, such as Connecticut, the board is headed by a first selectman, who historically has served as the chief administrative officer of the town and may be elected separately from the rest of the board.[3]

In New Hampshire cities (which have a board of aldermen instead of a board of selectmen), a "selectman" is an elected position that is responsible for organizing elections for local, state, and federal offices. Three selectmen, a moderator, and a clerk are elected in each city ward.[4]

A rare use of the term outside New England is in Georgetown, Colorado, where the town governing body is called the Board of Selectmen.[5]

First selectman

The first selectman is the head of the board of selectmen in some New England towns.

Historically, the first selectman was the one who received the largest number of votes during municipal elections or at a town meeting. Most towns, however, have chosen to elect the first selectman in a separate election, much like a mayor.

While the principle remains the same in most towns, the function has evolved differently. Traditionally, the first selectman acts as chief administrative officer. As with all politicians in New England, it was originally a part-time position. Most modern towns that have part-time first selectmen limit their function to chairing the board of selectmen and performing certain ceremonial duties. Actual administration of the town is handled by the town manager. In other towns, the first selectman acts as CEO of the town, much like a mayor, alone or in conjunction with a town manager who acts as a chief administrative officer.

In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the presiding selectman is usually called the chairman and is chosen annually by his or her fellow selectmen.[3]

In Connecticut, the first selectman is the chief executive and administrative officer of most towns with the Selectmen-Town Meeting form of government. Some towns, such as Woodbridge, elect their first selectmen to be the chief administrative officer of the town even though the position is technically part-time. The first selectman is also a voting member of the board of selectmen and can cast a tie-breaking vote in the board of finance. In other towns, the position is full-time. In towns such as Beacon Falls, Bethany, Orange, and Simsbury, the losing first selectman candidate can earn a seat on the board of selectmen, depending on the number of votes he or she garners.[6]

See also


  • de Tocqueville, Alexis (1835, 1840), Democracy in America: the Henry Reeve text as revised by Francis Bowen, now further corrected and edited with introduction, editorial notes, and bibliography by Phillips Bradley, (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1945), Chapter V: Spirit of the townships of New England.
  • Fairlee, J.A. Local government in counties, towns, and villages, (The Century Co., New York, 1906), Chap. 8 (online version)
  • Murphy, R.E. "Town Structure and Urban Concepts in New England", The Professional Geographer 16, 1 (1964).
  • Garland, J.S. New England town law : a digest of statutes and decisions concerning towns and town officers, (Boston, Mass., 1906), pp. 1–83. (online version)
  • Green, A. New England's gift to the nation—the township.: An oration, (Angell, Burlingame & Co., Providence, 1875) (online version)
  • Parker, J. The origin, organization, and influence of the towns of New England : a paper read before the Massachusetts Historical Society, December 14, 1865, (Cambridge, 1867) (online version)
  • Whiting, S. The Connecticut town-officer, Part I: The powers and duties of towns, as set forth in the statutes of Connecticut, which are recited, (Danbury, 1814), pp. 7–97 (online version)
  • Zimmerman, Joseph F. "The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action" Praeger Publishers, 1999.


  1. ^ Fairlie, pp. 156-7.
  2. ^ Fairlie, pp. 156-163.
  3. ^ a b Zimmerman.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Town of Georgetown, Home of The Georgetown Loop Historic Railroad". Archived from the original on 2017-11-07. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  6. ^ Sembor, Edward C. (2003). An Introduction to Connecticut State and Local Government. Lanham: University Press of America. pp. 89–92. ISBN 9780761826279.
Boston Board of Selectmen

The Boston Board of Selectmen was the governing board for the town of Boston from the 17th century until 1822. Selectmen were elected to six-month terms early in the history of the board, but later were elected to one-year terms.

In colonial days selectmen included William Clark. At the time of the American Revolution, the selectmen were John Hancock, Joseph Jackson, Samuel Sewall, William Phillips, Timothy Newell, John Ruddock, John Rowe and Samuel Pemberton.

Brian Cresta

Brian M. Cresta (born April 22, 1969 in Stoneham, Massachusetts) is an American politician who currently serves on the Middleton, Massachusetts Board of Selectmen. He previously served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001 and as a member of the Wakefield, Massachusetts Board of Selectmen from 1991 to 1994. From 1998 to 2001 he was also the Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Easton, Massachusetts

Easton is a town in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 23,112 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Greater Boston area, but is also part of the 6-county definition of the Providence MSA.

Easton is governed by an elected Board of Selectmen. Open Town Meeting acts as the legislative branch of the town. The Selectman choose a Town Administrator to run the day-to-day operations of the town.

James D. Green

James Dinan Green (September 8, 1798 – August 18, 1882) was a Massachusetts politician who served as a Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a member of the Board of Selectmen and the first, fourth and eighth Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jeremiah Nelson

Jeremiah Nelson, was a Representative from Massachusetts.

Nelson was born in Rowley, Essex County, Massachusetts, September 14, 1769 to Solomon and Elizabeth (Mighill) Nelson. He graduated from Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1790. He engaged in the mercantile business in Newburyport, Massachusetts.He was a member of the general court of Massachusetts in 1803 and 1804, was elected as a Federalist to the Ninth Congress (March 4, 1805 – March 3, 1807); he was not a candidate for renomination in 1806 to the Tenth Congress. In 1811, he served as chairman of the board of selectmen of Newburyport. He was again elected to the Congress and to the four succeeding Congresses, serving from (March 4, 1815 – March 3, 1825). During the (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Congresses) he was chairman of the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1824 to the Nineteenth Congress.

He served as president of the Newburyport Mutual Fire Co. in 1829. He returned to Congress as an Anti-Jacksonian for the Twenty-second Congress (March 4, 1831 – March 3, 1833). He declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1832. After leaving politics, he engaged in the shipping business. Nelson died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, October 2, 1838, and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery.

List of cities and towns in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is a state located in the Northeastern United States. This is a list of the 221 towns and 13 cities in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. New Hampshire is organized along the New England town model, where the state is nearly completely incorporated and divided into towns, some of which the state has designated as "cities". For each town/city, the table lists the county to which it belongs, its date of incorporation, its population according to the 2010 census, its form of government, and its principal villages. Cities are indicated in boldface. Cities and towns are treated identically under state law. Cities are just towns that dropped the town meeting form of government in favor of a city form by special act of the New Hampshire General Court. However, since 1979, changing the form of governance no longer confers city status. Towns may drop the town meeting by local vote and adopt a new charter for a representative government, such as a council-manager form, and retain their status as a town. Several of the higher-population towns have already done so.

Generally, government forms come in several varieties:

The standard form has a board of selectmen acting as the town executive, while the entire voting population of the town acts as the town legislature in a form known as a town meeting.

Some towns have adopted a town manager to act as the town executive, in those cases the board of selectmen acts as the town legislature, while town meetings are advisory in nature. This form functions as the council-manager municipal form

Other towns have abolished their boards of selectmen and replaced it with a town council, to form a council-manager system

Prior to 1979, to abolish the board of selectmen and open town meeting required the town to be rechartered by the state legislature as a city, whereby the city charter would establish a representative government for the town, usually a board of aldermen or city council and led by a mayor and/or city manager.Regardless of which form of government a municipality uses, and whether it calls itself a city or town, all cities and towns are treated identically by the state law.

New Hampshire also has a small number of townships, grants, gores and other unincorporated areas which are not part of any municipality. These are small and rare, and cover a small amount of the land and population of the state.

Marc Lombardo

Marc T. Lombardo is an American politician who represents the 22nd Middlesex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He is a former member of the Billerica, Massachusetts Board of Selectmen (2005–2010) and a former Billerica town meeting member (2004–2010).

Norman Hansen

Norman B. Hansen (July 8, 1924 – October 27, 2014) was an American politician and government official who held various positions in Saugus, Massachusetts. He served as town manager from 1987 to 1992 and on four occasions served as temporary Town Manager.

Peter Durant

Peter J. Durant is an American politician who represents the 6th Worcester District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and is a former member of the Spencer, Massachusetts Board of Selectmen.

Provincetown Board of Selectmen

The Provincetown Board of Selectmen is the primary policy-making, planning, and goal-setting agency of the Town of Provincetown, Massachusetts. The Board of selectmen consists of five members elected at-large for a three year term.

Rodney Wallace (Massachusetts)

Rodney Wallace (December 21, 1823 – February 27, 1903) was a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts.

Born in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, Wallace attended the common schools.

He engaged in the manufacture of paper.

He was a member of the Board of Selectmen of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1864, 1865, and 1867.

He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1873.

He served as member of the Massachusetts Governor's Council from 1880-1882.

Wallace was elected as a Republican to the Fifty-first Congress (March 4, 1889 – March 3, 1891).

Wallace was not a candidate for renomination in 1890 to the Fifty-second Congress.

After serving in congress Wallace returned to the business of manufacturing paper.

He died in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1903.

He was interred in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Ryan Fattman

Ryan C. Fattman (born July 1, 1984) is an American state legislator currently serving in the Massachusetts State Senate. Prior to being elected to the Massachusetts Senate, Fattman represented the 18th Worcester district in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Republican. Before serving as a state representative, he attended Suffolk University and Tufts University and served on the Sutton Board of Selectmen from 2006 to 2011.

Sarah Peake

Sarah K. Peake is an American politician from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A Democrat, she has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives since 2007. She represents the Fourth Barnstable district, a Cape Cod district that includes her hometown of Provincetown. She previously served on the Provincetown Board of Selectmen.

Peake earned an A.B. from Colgate University and a Juris Doctor from Pace University School of Law.

Elected to the Provincetown Board of Selectmen in 2002, she first ran for state representative in 2004, facing Republican incumbent Shirley Gomes. Gomes, running for a sixth term, defeated Peake by 55 percent to 42 percent. When Gomes decided against seeking re-election in 2006, Peake once again ran for the seat. She won the Democratic primary handily against two opponents. In the general election, she faced Republican Aaron Maloy and won by 56 percent to 44 percent. She took office the following January. Seeking a second term in November 2008, she faced former Harwich selectman and Republican nominee Don Howell. She won easily, defeating Howell by 68% to 32%. In 2010, she overcame Orleans selectman and Republican nominee David Dunford, winning 64% of the vote.In the legislature, she serves as the Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, as well as being a member of the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight and the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

Peake is married to Lynn Mogell. She is one of five openly LGBT members of the Massachusetts General Court, alongside Representatives Kate Hogan (D–Stow), Liz Malia (D–Jamaica Plain) and Denise Andrews (D–Orange), as well as Senator Stan Rosenberg (D–Amherst). Her 2006, 2008 and 2010 campaigns won the support of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Saugus, Massachusetts

Saugus is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. The population was 26,628 at the 2010 census.

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

Shrewsbury is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. Shrewsbury, unlike surrounding towns like Grafton, Millbury, Westborough, and Northborough, did not become a mill town or farming village; most of its 19th-century growth was due to its proximity to Worcester and visitors to Lake Quinsigamond. The population was 35,608 according to the 2010 US Census, in nearly 12,400 households.

Incorporated in 1727, the town is governed now under the New England representative town meeting system, headed by the Town Manager and five-member elected Board of Selectmen whose duties include licensing, appointing various administrative positions, and calling a town meeting of citizens annually or whenever the need arises.

Stillman Parker House

The Stillman Parker House is a historic house at 484 Summer Avenue in Reading, Massachusetts. Probably built in the 1850s, it is a rare local variant of transitional Federal/Greek Revival styling. The 1.5 story wood frame house has a high-pitched roof which extends over the front porch, which is supported by fluted Doric columns. The doors and windows have Greek Revival architrave surrounds. The house belonged to Stillman Parker, a local shoe manufacturer who also served on the town's board of selectmen.The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Sutton, Massachusetts

Sutton is a town in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 8,963 at the 2010 census.

Town Manager of Saugus, Massachusetts

The Town Manager of Saugus, Massachusetts, is the chief administrative manager of Saugus, Massachusetts. Saugus has a Town Manager/Representative town meeting (Plan E) system of government. The Town Manager’s Office is located in Saugus Town Hall. Scott Crabtree has been town manager since March 30, 2015 and previously held the position from 2012 to 2014.

Saugus has had more instability with the Manager's position compared to other towns. This high rate of turnover has been used by some opponents of the Town Manager form of government as an example of why their community should not adopt it.

Wakefield, Massachusetts

Wakefield is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts in the Greater Boston metropolitan area, incorporated in 1812 and located about 12.5 mi (20.1 km) north-northwest of Downtown Boston. The 73rd most populous municipality in Massachusetts, Wakefield's population was 24,932 at the 2010 census, with a 2016 population estimate of 26,399.


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