Town Government Explainer

How Greenwich Town Government is Structured and How It Works

The way Greenwich municipal government is structured can seem somewhat complicated. On this page, we demystify it and explain the how and why.

Voting in municipal (Town) elections is critical if you want your say, especially about how your tax dollars are spent in town. 

Why should I vote in the municipal (town) elections?

Every 2 years in November (in odd years) Greenwich voters have an opportunity to elect our First Selectmen/Board of Selectmen (BOS), Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), Board of Education (BOE), Representative Town Meeting (RTM), and other important town officers. Generally, turnout in these ‘off-year’ elections is very low – only about 40-45%. This means that a very small portion of town residents are choosing people to make big decisions about our town budget, school curriculum and building projects, property tax rate, local services, and town ordinances. Don’t you want your say?

What is the BET and why should I care?

What – The Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) controls the Town and Board of Education spending, sets fiscal policy, prepares the annual budget for RTM approval, and determines each year’s tax mill rate. The BET controls the town purse strings and determines how much money is spent on town infrastructure, including our school buildings. The RTM approves the BET budget but cannot increase or add funding.

Who – Board members are elected (in odd years) to two year terms. BET is made up of 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Each slate of 6 is chosen (endorsed) by their respective party Town Committee. Voters cannot not select BET candidates for the slate except if there are petition candidates challenging party-endorsed candidates in the August primary election. If you want a say on who gets the party endorsement – come join us on the Democratic Town Committee!

Why – IMPORTANTLY, voters determine which party controls the BET by voting in the November municipal elections. The party receiving the most votes chooses the BET Chairman and the Chairman has the tie-breaking vote! This is a reason why it is crucial for Democrats to vote in the municipal elections, including voting for the Democratic BET slate. Are you concerned about Greenwich Public Schools being in a state of disrepair and ADA non-compliance? The BET controls how much we are spending on school buildings.

Where – BET meetings are open to the public. The full BET meets 11 times per year at Town Hall. See the BET website for calendar, contact information, and past meeting minutes and recordings.

Excellent BET explainer video from League of Women Voters Greenwich:

What is the First Selectman and why should I care?

What – The First Selectman is the chief executive of the town, much like a mayor. The First Selectman has supervision and control over town departments: police, fire, public works, parks and recreation, law, human resources, parking services, fleet management, information technology and purchasing. The First Selectman is responsible for preparing and submitting to the BET an annual proposed budget report and operations plan.

The First Selectman, along with two additional selectmen constitute the Board of Selectmen (BOS). The BOS nominate individuals for town boards, committees and commissions such as: architectural review committee, board of health, parks and recreation board, planning and zoning commission, and school building committees.

Who – Each party endorses a two-person candidate slate for First Selectman and Selectman. The First Selectman and Board of Selectmen are chosen by voters during the November municipal elections every two years (in odd years). The candidate with the most votes will be First Selectmen and the 2nd and 3rd highest vote-getters will be on the Board of Selectmen. 

Why – The First Selectman (or Select-Person) is the face of the town and sets the tone for town priorities, as well as being responsible for directing resource allocation and capital investments in the town budget proposal.

Where – The Board of Selectmen meet twice per month at Town Hall and meetings are open to the public. See the BOS website for calendar, contact details, and past meeting minutes and recordings.

What is the RTM and why should I care?

What – The Town of Greenwich has a legislative body commonly found in New England – the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). The RTM has the final word on most of the important decisions our town makes. The RTM has the power to approve (but not add to) the town budget, pass ordinances, and approve nominations made by the Selectmen to town bodies. The RTM has eleven standing committees and two special standing committees that deal with activities of town government, such as education, labor contracts, land use, and public works.

Who – The RTM has 230 members, divided into 12 districts, who are elected for 2 year terms. Voters can cast a ballot for candidates in their district during the November municipal elections (in odd years). RTM candidates do not run with a party affiliation or party endorsement. 

Why – The RTM has significant influence over what happens, or does not happen, in town. Aside from voting annually on the Town budget, in the past few years, the RTM notably passed an ordinance restricting retail plastic bag use, removed capital funding for a fire station in Northwest Greenwich, and voted to accept a $500K grant to the Registrar of Voters to enhance election administration and infrastructure.

Where – RTM meetings are open to the public and residents are encouraged to attend and engage. The RTM meets 8 times per year, typically the second Monday of the month in the Central Middle School Auditorium. See the RTM website for calendar, contact details, and past meeting minutes and recordings.

Interested in serving on the RTM? Click here for more information.

What is the BOE and why should I care?

What – The Board of Education (BOE) is the governing body of the Greenwich Public Schools. The BOE develops and submits its annual budget to the BET. The BOE determines educational priorities with the Superintendent, determines the number of sections in the elementary schools – which impacts class size, initiates and approves plans for school construction projects, revises curriculum, and takes steps to ensure safety of students and staff.

Who – The BOE consists of 8 members, 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans, who are elected to staggered 4 year terms during the November municipal elections (in odd years). The BOE elects its own chair, although the board chair selection falls under the purview of the Board of Selectmen if the BOE is deadlocked on their choice after a 30 day period.

Why – In recent years the BOE has made many important decisions that impact our schools – around navigating the COVID pandemic, protecting students from discrimination under Title IX policy, and spearheading plans for major building projects at Central Middle School, Old Greenwich School, Western Middle School fields, and the Greenwich High School entryway. It’s important to have members on the BOE who are open-minded, evidence-based, value inclusivity, and want to make investments in our schools.

Where – The BOE meets once per month during the school year in one of the town’s school buildings. Meetings are open to the public and individuals can sign up to speak during the public comment time. See the BOE website for calendar, contact details, and prior meeting minutes and recordings.