Updated with corrected quote from the Town Clerk and clarification from the Select Board Chairwoman
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will move toward making the town clerk and tax collector positions appointed instead of elected.
During a budget discussion Tuesday, the Selectmen voted to place an article on the town meeting warrant that would change some town clerical positions from elected to appointed.
The discussion arose from Town Clerk Christine Emerson's budget presentation. She added in a $10,000 line item to hire an assistant who she can train to replace her in the three remaining years she wishes to work.
"My plan is to serve the town of Cheshire for 30 years, but in my next three years, I want someone that I can teach so when I do leave, someone is not just walking in," she said. "That is how I came into the job. I was appointed then was elected town clerk the following May. The rest is history."
Interim Town Administrator Mark Webber liked the idea but was concerned the town would hire someone, train them, and in three years' time, they may not be elected.
Emerson said she hoped that voters would recognize that the assistant was trained and qualified when it was time to elect a new town clerk.
The selectmen felt it would be better to switch the position from elected to appointed. This has been discussed at previous selectmen's meetings.
Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi agreed and felt the same thing should be done with the Tax Collector.
The Treasurer and Tax Collector positions are held by the same employee, however they are independent positions. Currently, the Treasurer position is appointed while the Tax Collector position is elected.
"There is nothing that would stop a convicted felon from running or someone that was convicted of tax fraud," she said.
Selectman Ronald DeAngelis agreed and thought appointing these positions would firm up the chain of command under the town administrator.
If approved, the change would come into effect in 2024. The change would also have to be approved via a ballot question.
Emerson moved on to the library budget and said the town must budget to hire a new library director.
"We are hoping to get someone who has a library science background who is hopefully familiar with the CWMars system," she said. "Because if have to start someone without it, then they have to go for certification. It is to our advantage to have someone with some experience."
Emerson budgeted $14,000 for the salary and noted she only budget for a part of the year because the Library is currently not fully open. She said this number will likely have to increase.
The selectmen also discussed their own salary increase and conceded the 4 percent increase they discussed last week.
"For the amount of negative feedback that I have gotten in the past few days ... I don't even want the optics of having 4 percent in the budget," Francesconi said. "I rather keep it at 2 percent."
The Selectmen turned down an increase this fiscal year because of the uncertainty of the impacts of COVID-19 on the budget
The 4 percent increase equates to about $35.
Selectman Mark Biagini indicated that he did not care if he received an increase or anything.
"I am not in this for the money," he said. "I don't care if I ever get it."
DeAngelis said he thought it created a structural problem that some boards were given larger stipends than the selectmen.
"It doesn't look good to have your highest-ranking board making less than the others," he said.
He added that his fellow board members may not be in it for the money, but they do take on liability and responsibilities. But because of the problems it created, he would rather just leave the number to town meeting.
In Webber's report, he said the Town Administrator Search Committee will hold its first meeting
"We want to have a general discussion of the process that we are thinking about," Webber said.
He said the deadline is April 30 and that incoming applications have slowed down.
There was a rush on day one and two but now it is quiet," he said. "There will be a rush right before the end."
The selectmen also will explore the possibility of changing the status of the town harbormaster. Currently, the appointment is made for life, and the current harbormaster does not live in town.
"There has to be some way to do this," DeAngelis said. "We should have somebody doing this that is local ... there is always a way."
Before closing the Selectmen agreed to move the Town Hall reopening date from May 1 to June 1.
"We are still in this and there has been a delayed process getting the office open," Francesconi said.
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