Constituent service

one effect of the ongoing shift in population from city to suburb is that more and more town selectmen in Massachusetts have constituencies that dwarf that of city councilors. The Bay State’s largest town, Framingham (population 65,598), has regular town meetings but is otherwise governed by five selectmen,or one for every 13,000 residents. That’s a higher ratio than in 48 of the 51 communities with a city form of government – the only exceptions being Boston,Worcester, and Springfield.

In North Adams, the state’s smallest city (population 14,167), there are nine councilors,or one for every 1,600 residents. There, a sharp drop in population has helped bring citizens closer to their representatives: In 1940, there was one councilor for every 2,500 residents.

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Larger constituencies may mean lower voter turnout. In the town elections of 2004, the last year for which statecompiled figures are available, the median turnout among 300 municipalities was 24 percent.But the five largest communities that have stuck with town government recorded turnouts near or well below that figure: Framingham (11 percent), Brookline (17 percent), Plymouth (25 percent), Arlington (12 percent), and Billerica (20 percent). In the five smallest towns that have five-member boards of selectmen (as opposed to the state-mandated minimum of three), turnout was noticeably higher: Truro (34 percent), Wellfleet (35 percent), Millville (40 percent), Provincetown (36 percent), and Oak Bluffs (47 percent).

The number of representatives may be a factor in city elections as well. Everett has by far the biggest legislative branch in the state—consisting of 18 city councilors and a second chamber of seven aldermen—and logged an impressive turnout of about 49 percent in November 2005. But in Lawrence, which has a nine-person city council but a population almost double that of Everett, turnout was only about 30 percent, even though both cities had hotly contested mayoral races that year.

Sources: Massachusetts Municipal Association (www.mma.org); Massachusetts Election Statistics 2004.