LUDLOW — The Ludlow Government Charter Committee presented early recommendations for changes in the town’s charter at a public forum on June 17. At this point in the committee’s process, it is recommending a town council and town manager form of government but stressed that nothing is set in stone.

The committee was formed in August 2023 and tasked by the Board of Selectmen to examine the creation of a town charter, including a review of the government structure and make a recommendation.

Ludlow’s current government functions with Board of Selectmen as its executive branch. The board’s responsibilities include proposing budgets, setting public policy and creating basic regulations, licensing, setting fees and overseeing certain boards or committees. The town’s legislature is its representative Town Meeting — with 15 elected members from each of six “precincts” and at-large members including the selectmen, town moderator, town clerk and the chairs of the town’s major boards and committees. These 115 voters approve budgets, bylaw changes, capital spending, the purchase of land and other issues not within the purview of the board of selectmen.

The committee presented an option to maintain the current form of government or choose of three options — a return to an open town meeting, which Ludlow once used, electing a mayor and city council, or electing a town council and appointing a town manager. Of those choices, the committee recommended the third.

In the explanation behind the recommendation, Government Charter Committee Chair Marissa Ribeiro Dahan said a legislative council would be elected and therefore, accountable through the electoral process with staggered three-year terms. It was also said that a twice-monthly meeting schedule would allow faster decision-making and voters could interact with the seven-member, at-large legislative body regularly, rather than twice per year at a town meeting. It was noted that town employees would be prohibited from serving as a councilor to avoid conflicts of interest.

An appointed town manager and their staff would be the executive branch of the government. The appointed person would be chosen based on their qualifications and would operate without the influence of town politics. Answering to the town council, the town manager would oversee the town department heads, personnel decisions and contract negotiations.

As part of the committee’s work, it compared the forms of government in similarly sized towns with comparable budgets, namely East Longmeadow, Bridgewater, Agawam, Gardner, Concord and Auburn. Of these, Agawam and Gardner have mayors who serve two-year terms. The other four towns have a town manager as their executive officer. While Concord and Auburn operate with select boards, the others have councils for their legislative bodies.

Residents at the forum asked questions and shared opinions and concerns about all the options. The topic of several comments was a provision that the council president would serve as a voting member of the School Committee, bringing the total number of members to seven.

A resident said the council president would have a vote on a committee they were not elected to serve on.

School Committee Chair Sarah Bowler took issue with the possibility that a different person would be chosen as president each year as it reorganizes. She said it takes about two years for School Committee members to become adept in the matters and procedures it oversees.

Government Charter Committee member Brian Bylicki said he was a driving force behind that provision because he is “tired of hearing about budget battles” and does not want the two bodies to be “at each other’s throats.” If a councilor served on the School Committee, he reasoned, there would be a greater understanding of each body’s position.

Timothy Donnelly, who lives in Ludlow, but is the town clerk in Longmeadow, suggested changing the Town Meeting from representative, with precinct members, to an open town meeting, in which every eligible voter can weigh in on each article of the warrant. He said about 800 people come to Town Meeting there.

Selectman Bill Rosenblum said the committee had not yet considered an open Town Meeting format. “Open Town Meetings [are] usually in hilltowns,” he said, referring to communities with smaller populations. However, Ludlow’s electorate, with 15.608 voters, is fairly similar in size to Longmeadow, which has 12,265 voters.

Rosenblum broached the subject of an informed electorate by saying voters have two weeks between receiving the warrant and voting at Town Meeting. With a town council, there would be three months and multiple hearings to ask questions.

Another person at the forum was adamant that the Town Meeting-style of government must be continued but acknowledged that it could be improved. He said, “Very little can happen in Ludlow without going through Town Meeting. That’s democracy.” Referring to the town council recommendation, he said, “This is taking power away from the people.”

One person called Town Meeting “the court of last resort.” He opined that if voters had not rejected cannabis businesses at a Town Meeting, they would have been allowed to set up shop in Ludlow.

Government Charter Committee member Michelle Thompson noted that only 67 people came to the most recent Town Meeting and the budget was just barely approved, with a vote of 33-31. “Thirty-three people made the decision,” she said.

“The rest of the country doesn’t have Town Meeting. It’s a vestige of the colonial era,” someone pointed out. “We have 100 senators in Washington representing 350 million people.”

Some residents spoke in favor of an elected mayor. A former Ludlow selectman said that with an elected mayor, “One person is accountable, and is held accountable. If they’re not doing the job, see you later.”

School Committee member Jeff Stratton, who emphasized that he was speaking as a resident, urged the Government Charter Committee to ensure there are “checks and balances” with any new positions that might be created, including the opportunity to recall positions if needed.

Another part of the recommendation would transition positions and boards from elected to appointed.

Positions that require significant policy making, and function as a check on other positions, but do not require much training, would remain elected. Those positions that need specialized training, and whose role is defined and guided by laws would be appointed by the town manager with town council review. These would include the town clerk, Board of Assessors, Board of Health, Housing Authority, Planning Board and Recreation Commission. Ribeiro Dahan assured people that a switch to appointed positions was not intended to reflect the performance of people in those elected seats.

There are some costs associated with changing the form of government. There would be stipends for seven councilors instead of five selectmen, additional administrative staff may be needed to support a town manager and council, and a competitive salary would be required to attract a quality town manager.

The Government Charter Committee has reviewed about 85% of the town’s government structure. Once finished, the public’s comments will be reviewed and merged with the charter recommendations when feasible. The complete recommendations will then be sent to the Board of Selectmen, before going to the state for review. After that, a townwide referendum will be conducted on whether to approve the changes.

Government Charter Committee meetings are on the first and third Thursdays of each month, at 6 p.m. in Town Hall and on Ludlow Community TV. The committee can be reached at chartercommittee@ludlow.ma.us.