NAFFBLOG: Why I’m Leaving the Board of Selectmen

Chris Naff recaps his tenure on the Millbury Board of Selectmen.

NAFFBLOG: Why I’m Leaving the Board of Selectmen
Departure of Columbus, from the Harry T. Peters "America on Stone" Lithography Collection. Image courtesy Smithsonian Open Access.

On Tuesday, January 9, 2024 I announced that I would not be seeking reelection to the Board of Selectman this spring. Today, I would like to share why.

When I was a junior in High School in December 2007, I participated in Student Government Day where I served as “Town Manager” for the day, shadowing Bob Spain. After that experience I determined that if ever given the opportunity to serve the town I grew up in and love I should take it. Serving the town of Millbury for the past six years has been the honor of a lifetime. The years I’ve spent in office I will look fondly upon for the rest of my life.

Six years ago, the voters showed their confidence in me to serve as a member of the Board of Selectmen. I was twenty-seven when I was first sworn in. A fair critique of the millennial generation is that we at a young age determined we had a lot about the world figured out. We were mistaken, but an unfair critique of our generation is that we’re idealistic and detached from reality.

While I began my first term full of ambition and a strong dose of gumption, I knew there would be lessons to absorb along the way. Serving on the Board is a unique experience and a job unlike any other. No handbook or how-to guide exists on how to make decisions as a Selectman. However, the voters elect each of us on the Board to make the best decision possible and it is upon us to do just that. Along the way, I think I made some great decisions and some wrong ones as well. Therefore, I thought I’d provide some insight into what my experience has been like.

Without question, the most difficult task a Selectman faces is determining which (often limited) option is best. That seems obvious, but what is even more challenging is when you determine that what may be the best decision is not a popular one. The job of a Selectman is not to see which option currently polls the strongest. In our town, and in our country, what 51% of the public may think is best at times is not. I learned that what may seem unpopular to the public may very well be the best decision to make. Taking those positions can weigh on you, but that is the job we sign up for when we run for office. We don’t always get it right, I certainly didn’t, but that is the framing in which we must use in making our decisions.

Another challenge we face in office is deciding what we spend our time on. This does not get discussed enough. I don’t speak for my colleagues often, but I know for sure that none of us ran for office with the chief ambition to preside over dog hearings. I always tried to think of the big picture and instead of simply showing up every other Tuesday and seeing what is before us, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to accomplish while in office. Which brought me to another lesson: a Selectman must be proactive, not reactive, to be effective.

I came into office with some lofty goals. I wanted to encourage commercial development as I contend that is the best way to relieve residential taxpayers of their share of the burden in financing our government each year. I aimed to ease the pain of property taxes for our veterans and our seniors. We’ve made some progress on each, but there remains work to be done on both issues.

When I moved home from Florida in 2016, I arrived to a town that was crumbling. Our roads were in disrepair, the budget proportion between our schools and the town was out of balance, and our unfunded liabilities were growing at an insurmountable pace. I wanted to address each of those issues. I challenged management to put more of our budget towards road construction. I sat with our Superintendent and School Committee Chair to bridge the gap in our funding allocation. I successfully advocated for our employees to contribute more to their retirement benefits. All of that was worth doing, no matter how difficult or unpopular those conversations may have been.

There were other accomplishments along the way, and some are visible. I am proud of our downtown revitalization. We’ve welcomed new business to town, big and small, as well. I am especially proud to have championed the Small Business Grant Program we launched after the pandemic. No one had it harder than small businesses during COVID-19 and I am so thankful to have an incredible small business community in Millbury. I know for a fact that this program made a difference and I couldn’t be happier to see its success. Some accomplishments the public hasn’t seen, however, and perhaps will never know. That’s okay. Not every achievement needs adoration.

Ultimately, my decision to leave the Board is larger than any of those issues. I have to give my fellow Woolies credit for arriving at some very creative rumors. I am not running for higher office; 1) I don’t have any interest & 2) I consider Mike Moore and Paul Frost both to be good friends. I am not moving back to Florida (I wish!). And perhaps the funniest rumor was already disproved; I have no desire to be Town Manager… ever. None of those rumors are true. The real reason I’m leaving office is simple: it is time for me to focus on other endeavors.

I will cherish my time in Millbury as Selectman for the rest of my days. I love this town, what we are, and our history. I will leave with a few closings thoughts.

Words of Caution

H.L Mencken once said “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Sometimes the loudest voices in our community, in their impassioned stance, will advocate for the wrong decisions. We must never let the fervor of the moment cloud our better judgment.

We must also learn to quit assuming that people we disagree with us must have taken their position for nefarious reasons. In politics, we should welcome discourse and disagreement. If you’ve even joined us at a Selectmen’s meeting or tuned in on TV, you know I actually enjoy it. In fact, there are a few people who I will miss exchanging ideas with. You can probably guess whom. Politics is at its best when the discussion remains respectful. Civility is a common goal but at times an uncommon outcome.

Words of Optimism

Millbury will flourish. I think we forget that Millbury was bred from rebellion. We decided to become our own town because we didn’t want to be Sutton (and I contend that for many reasons, we still don’t!). Our town became our own because we were the industrialists, the doers, the innovators. We pursued new horizons at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Our history is one of growth. I would say Sutton’s history is one of farming pastures, but you can’t call it history if you’re still living it!

Speaking of growth, growth is good and growth is right. Today is not the Millbury of 1985. Sometimes I believe our collective nostalgia makes our community fearful of change. Nostalgia brings us, for some generations, back to a time when Millbury was in decay. The 70’s and 80’s that many in town grew up in were not good decades. The factories began to close. The jobs were leaving. Our opportunities became limited. That is not the Millbury of today. We are the one of two communities in Massachusetts with two exits on the Mass Pike. Our continued of development of Route 20 and (hopefully) 146 should excite us. The interest in Millbury should also not surprise us.

It also should not be surprising that more people want to live here. I expect to have a follow up blog on housing, so I won’t belabor the issue further here.

In Closing

Millbury is the Greatest Hometown in America. I believed that when I grew up here. I believed it when I first ran for office, and I believe it still to this day. This town is special. I contend that what makes us special is not our fears, but our opportunities. Millbury, at its founding, was a town of opportunity. I also believe that our best days are ahead of us, and that our future will always be bright so long that we, as Ben Franklin said “…can keep it.”

Chris Naff is a founding editor of The Bramanville Tribune and the chairman of the Millbury Board of Selectmen. His term expires next week. He can be reached at