By GAYLA CAWLEY
MARBLEHEAD — Town Clerk Robin Michaud is against a Town Meeting proposal that would be a step toward making her position appointed, rather than elected.
A citizen’s petition, sponsored by Charles Gessner, a Marblehead resident and former chairman of the Finance Committee, would see if the town will “vote to change the position of town clerk from elected to appointed by the Board of Selectmen.”
“To the best of my knowledge, the town clerk issue has not been proposed before,” said Town Administrator John McGinn in an email. “If Town Meeting approves the article, the issue would go on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. If it passes on the ballot, it would go into effect in May 2019.”
Town Meeting is May 1 at 7 p.m. at the Marblehead Veterans Middle School auditorium.
“I am against changing the position to an appointed position,” said Michaud in an email. “The town clerk is the chief election official for the town and it should stay independent from the elected board of selectmen, who is the appointing authority for the town. By remaining independent, the clerk can maintain the electoral process of the town without being pressured by the board they report to, a board that is on the town ballot every year. This in itself could create a conflict of interest.
“Changing this to an appointed position takes the voice away from the 15,000 voters in town,” Michaud continued. “The decision will be at the discretion of the five-member board and the town administrator. There is no reason to take the responsibility and right away from the voters. If the voters aren’t happy with the town clerk’s performance, they can decide to elect a new one.”
Gessner said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the clerk’s office. He said he doesn’t have a “personal ax to grind” and that there isn’t anyone else who could apply for the job who has as much experience as Michaud.
Right now, he said the clerk is an independent position (elected for a three-year term) and there isn’t any oversight and no way to integrate the clerk’s efforts into the town management. At times, Gessner said, he suspects the clerk could use some help, such as from the nearby selectmen’s office. Last year, during early voting, which attracted long lines, he said if the town administrator was in charge of the clerk’s office, the process could have been more efficient. He said the town administrator could have gone to the clerk ahead of time to ask for extended hours.
There would be no financial impact in the change, Gessner said, and therefore, the finance committee has taken no position on the article.
But Michaud said there’s a reason why the town clerk position has remained an elected one. She said an elected town clerk has to be a resident, and if the job becomes appointed, that wouldn’t be the case. As a resident, she said the clerk knows what’s important to the voters and the community.
“Currently, there are 312 towns in Massachusetts with only 86 having appointed town clerks (and) 226 have elected town clerks,” she said. “Elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years. In a town full of tradition, we should keep this tradition too. The tradition has stood the test of time because it works.”
Gayla Cawley can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @hGaylaCawley.