Town vs. City Government: The Governing Pros and Cons


By: Casey Pratt – August, 2018

Groveland and Boston are two vastly different communities in Massachusetts, which have vastly different governing bodies. From a distance, local government simply seems like a smaller version of city government. Groveland has an executive branch in the form of the Board of Selectmen, and a legislative branch in the form of Town Meetings. Boston’s executive and legislative branches come in the form of a Mayor and a City Council. The general structure is the same in any governing body in America, but the small differences can vastly change how the community functions alongside their government.

An easy example of this is people’s tendency to use the mayor as a scapegoat. They are elected for four year periods and have some control over the branches in his or her government. Despite there being many branches in Boston, with different offices being responsible for certain things, to the denizens of the city, it all gets put on the mayor’s head.

This easy blaming is especially evident on social media, where people are complaining to the current Mayor of Boston about traffic, sending him videos of bad drivers, telling him about how their school has no budget, and sending him pictures of cracked sidewalks. Obviously, there are different departments that specialize in each of those categories. Yet, instead of contacting them, everyone goes directly to the top. In a way, that makes sense, however, it makes the mayor’s office completely backlogged, while the transportation and education branches of Boston’s government won’t know about the problem for a week or more.

The opposite thing happens here in Groveland. All Selectmen are elected for three years. Some Selectmen were elected on different years than others; the chair, O’Neil, is up for reelection in 2019, Dube-Carpenter and Dunn are up in 2020, and Watson and Wood are up in 2021. Most people are aware that they have a board of selectmen that they elected, but few think to contact them when they have a problem. They only meet bi-weekly, which means their response time is extended, and there is no single person that has unrivaled power in the town government because the board must have a majority vote to pass most things. That in mind, the taxpayers of Groveland don’t regularly think of the Selectmen as being able to fix whatever problems are apparent in the governance of the town.

In actuality, they have a significant influence on local law. They appoint other townspeople to certain boards and commissions and have contact with larger governmental figures. No individual on the board is as powerful as the mayor, but together they have the same duties and function similarly.

Having Town Meetings instead of a City Council has the same obvious difference as having a Board of Selectmen instead of a Mayor. On a City Council, the townspeople have less input, yet it is much more efficient.

The reason for this difference is that in Groveland, no one is searching for immediate change, but many are looking for a voice in what happens in their town. In Boston, where things are always changing, and new things are always being asked, it’s necessary to have a decisive governing body instead of one run solely by and for the people.

In both styles of governance, though, people seem unclear about how to contact the officials who can help them, so here is a quick summary for anyone who wants to make a change in their local or state government. If there is a problem being voted on nationally, or that people in DC are voting on, contact state legislature via phone or email, as they are more likely to pay attention to that than an email. If there is an issue in town, then go to the next town meeting to speak on that issue, or contact the head of the board relating to the issue.

Hopefully, everyone will use that information, because what is the point of a democracy if the people don’t take advantage of the voice that they have in it?

casey realCasey Pratt is a painter and photographer, and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She also excels in English, and hopes to have a career photojournalist. Contact Casey on her Instagram, @acuriousteen