Tradition comes to a ‘head

May 1, 2017

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — The town clerk position will remain elected, as Town Meeting rejected a proposal to change the position to an appointed one on Monday night.

Town Meeting was dominated by the citizens petition centered around the town clerk position, and was relatively routine before the proposal was up for debate.

The petition was defeated 389-166, keeping the position elected, but the matter wasn’t easily resolved.

A petition from 12 voters before Town Meeting requesting that the vote be conducted by secret ballot was honored, meaning that hundreds of members voted individually by paper ballot, which then had to be counted.

Town Clerk Robin Michaud was against the proposed change, which if approved, would have then went on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. It would have gone into effect in May 2019, if it had passed Town Meeting and a ballot initiative.

Michaud also spoke against the article at Town Meeting, saying that if the position was appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the clerk would be pressured to do what they want in order to keep his or her job.

She had previously argued that the position is the chief election official for the town, and should stay independent. Michaud said previously that elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years, and in a town full of tradition, “we should keep this tradition too,” one that has stood the test of time because it works.

Several Town Meeting members spoke against the proposal, with one urging a “no” vote in order to preserve the history and tradition.

Charles Gessner, the sponsor for the petition, said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the town clerk’s office.

Saugus Town Meeting is at play

Without any discussion, Town Meeting members approved an $89.2 million budget, including a $36.5 million figure for the schools.

Three other citizens’ petitions had also garnered some attention leading up to Town Meeting.

Voters gave their approval to accepting Tioga Way as a town or public road. Only public ways are eligible for state Chapter 90 funds to repair and resurface local roads, Town Administrator John McGinn said previously.

Another petition requesting funds for holiday donations was indefinitely postponed, after the sponsors withdrew their motion, citing the recent approval by the Board of Selectmen to create a donation fund, upon the request of the Chamber of Commerce. With the fund, people can make freewill donations payable to the town of Marblehead, which would go into that fund and be available for the purchase of holiday decorations.

A fourth citizens’ petition passed, which was asking the town to support a resolution supporting state and federal legislation that provides greater transparency in political donations and limits the influence of money in politics, and requests state and federal representatives to pass such legislation.

The effort is part of a larger movement by Represent.Us, a grassroots campaign based in Florence, that is aimed at stopping political bribery, ending secret money and fixing broken elections.

Bonnie Grenier, one of the sponsors of the petition, said previously the resolution is nonbinding and doesn’t become law, but would represent the voice of the people, and would strongly encourage elected officials at the state and local level.

Speaking in favor of the article on Monday, she said it would enhance transparency in political fundraising and campaign spending, and is aimed at restoring government that truly represents, we the people. If there’s going to be change, she said it falls to the people to act.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.