Finished Listening, Charter Committee To Begin Deliberations

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By: Mary Stanley
Published: 04/27/12

After spending the last three months listening to various department heads, local boards and elected officials, the charter review committee will now begin the process of deliberating and discussing some of the recommendations for changes to the town’s charter.

Charter review committee Chairman Julia C. Hendy said there are a few recommended changes that will most likely generate a good deal of discussion and debate among the committee members.
One of the recommendations, which is to change the town clerk position from an elected one to an appointed position, has already been voted on by the committee.  “We voted 5 to 2 to make the change,” said Ms. Hendy.

The recommendation came at the urging of Town Manager George H. Dunham, who proposed the change because the town clerk serves as a department head and all other department head positions in town are appointed. If approved by voters at Town Meeting, the change will take effect at the end of Town Clerk Taylor D. White’s term.

Ms. Hendy said Selectman James W. Pierce made some compelling arguments for accepting the recommendation. 

“He pointed out that the town clerk is the only elected person in town earning a salary and that an elected person does not work 40 hours a week; only appointed positions do,” she said.

She added that elected officials do not have to conform to hours or report to a boss.

Though Mr. White was invited to attend the charter committee’s March 22 meeting to discuss the issue, he did not attend and instead sent a letter supporting his case that the position remain an elected one. In his letter he wrote, “21 percent of Town Clerks across the state are elected and having it remain an elected position removes any political influence.”

In his letter, Mr. White also requested that Ms. Hendy, the former assistant town clerk, recuse herself from deliberating or discussing this issue, due to what he called an “ethical conflict” since she was employed in the clerk’s office and because she had, in the past, taken a public position on this issue. Ms. Hendy declined to recuse herself, saying that if everyone had to recuse themselves for opinions they expressed in public, there would be an empty committee.

Another change that could generate some discussion, Ms. Hendy said, is a recommendation for a residency requirement for the superintendent of schools. School board members argued against this recommendation, saying that such a requirement would interfere with their ability to draw good quality candidates for the post.

The committee will also discuss a recommendation to have the school department operate similarly to town government with respect to employee contract negotiations. As it stands now, the town manager is responsible for negotiating the contracts for municipal union employees but in the school department, two members of the school board negotiate the union contracts. A suggestion was made to have the superintendent responsible for the contract negotiations or to hire a professional organization. Because school board members offered a split opinion on this change, the charter review committee asked that the school committee draft language on this issue that they could agree on and submit it to the review committee.

The committee will also discuss whether to accept a request from the library’s board of trustees asking that the roles and responsibilities be restored to that board. Mark Wiklund, chairman of the library trustees, pointed out that when changes were made to the charter in 2008, those changes created a lack of clarity with respect to hiring and hours of operation.

“The trustees want more control over who works when and where. The way the charter is written now, it takes away some of the responsibilities of the trustees, including the hiring of personnel,” Ms. Hendy said.

Ms. Hendy said the charter review committee will continue deliberating and discussing the recommendations that have been brought forward and she expects that an approved version of the charter will be ready for a public hearing, scheduled for Thursday, May 17. 

After that, she said, the committee will consider any concerns issued by the public before bringing it to the board of selectmen for approval. Once the selectmen approve the updated charter, it will go before voters at a Town Meeting.

The charter review committee will hold its next meeting at 7 PM on Thursday, May 3 in the upper level conference room at the town hall offices on Jan Sebastian Drive.

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