The Town Meeting has remained the basis of town government in New England and in parts of New York State since early colonial times. Like many of the 312 towns of Massachusetts, South Hadley has no charter. It carries on its business under the constitution and General Laws of the state; special laws enacted from time to time for this Town by the General Court (Legislature) and accepted by the voters; a body of custom and precedent; and its own Bylaws and regulations, passed by Town Meeting.
The Town Meeting of South Hadley gives its elected representatives the privilege of participation by discussing and voting for changes and additions to the Town's Bylaws and for setting the budget. It was changed from an open to representative form of Town Meeting in 1933.
Under the General Laws, the state regulates all municipalities in such areas as finance (debt limit, taxation, etc.), traffic rules, welfare, public health, and educational standards. Up to the present, Massachusetts's cities and towns have had less freedom than those of many other states to decide purely local matters. Hence there are many "special laws" for which South Hadley and other communities have had to appeal to the Legislature. Home Rule is now set out in the General Laws of Massachusetts.
In the last century, it was quite usual, on passing the population mark (12,000) required by state law for a city, for Massachusetts towns to change from Town Meeting to city government. For many years now, however, this practice has not been followed, and even a town as large as Brookline (over 60,000) still functions under Town Meeting government, with certain helpful modifications.
Modernize & Streamline Government
Many towns from 8,000 to 60,000 population have adopted 1 or more of the 5 plans to modernize and streamline their government without giving up the Selectmen-Town Meeting framework. In 1978, South Hadley Selectboard appointed their 1st administrative assistant. In 1990, Town Meeting voted to increase the Board of Selectboard to 5 members. These 2 changes help to deal with the increasing complexities of town government.