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Cheshire Selectmen Want to Take Inventory of Appointed Positions

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen hope to re-evaluate appointed positions to make sure those serving want to actually continue serving the town. 
 
The board discussed appointed positions Tuesday and agreed it was time to restructure the appointment system and gauge whether long-time appointees were even interested. 
 
"Our positions have become lifetime appointments even when they aren't lifetime appointments," Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said. "You are in until you bow out, and it is an expectation that you will be appointed the next year."
 
The conversation stemmed from a request from Wire Inspector George Sweet who asked that the Selectmen appoint a backup wire inspector for the backup wire inspector. 
 
Selectman Mark Biagini, who was relaying Sweet's request, said Sweet was worried that with an increase in solar panel projects in town, when both he and the assistant inspector out of town, projects would be put on hold.
 
The caused the board pause because Sweet asked and received a 50 percent salary increase to compensate him for increased solar field installations in town.
 
"My initial thought is that if there are people that are in an appointed position that are worried they are not in town enough to fulfill their duties then we should be looking at publishing those positions," Francesconi said. "We should allow someone who is available more often to apply for them."
 
She added that she could not think of another community that made additional appointments to accommodate an employee's vacation time.
 
The Selectmen agreed to confer with the interim town administrator, who was absent Tuesday,  to see if it was possible to send appointed employees letters of interest just to gauge if they were still even interested in serving. Francesconi felt that a lot of appointees reluctantly stay on because they think they are helping the town.
 
She added that there also may be appointed employees who aren't really holding down the job.
 
There are other concerns with appointed employees. Many of them make their own hours that often do not work for the taxpayers. Francesconi said there are no job descriptions on the books so it is hard for the town to mandate set hours.
 
"Everyone is part time ... and it is hard to get a hold of people so this may give us a chance to think about how we really want to restructure and can we make improvements," she said. "We are representing the taxpayers who pay their salaries and we need to take a good hard look at this."
 
In other business, the Selectmen set a June 14 town meeting to be held Hoosac Valley High School gymnasium.
 
"It worked well last time and there was plenty of space," board member Jason Levesque said.
 
The Selectmen also discussed possible warrant articles for the upcoming town meeting. 
 
Levesque wanted to explore a warrant article that would allow the town to remove elected officials from office if they are inactive or are not properly doing their job.
 
"I feel like if there is a way to get people in there, there has to be a way to get people out if it isn't working for the town," he said. "If someone is clearly not working I think we need to have a recall process."
 
He suggested creating some sort of process where a certain amount of signatures would need to remove someone.
 
Finance Committee Chairman John Tremblay also asked that the Selectmen consider an article that would adjust when newly elected candidates actually enter office.
 
"We have been through four months of the budget process and now we have two new players on the select board right at the end of the budget cycle," he said.
 
He suggested that newly elected members start July 1 so there is a change of guard after the budget is passed.
 
Biagini and Levesque, who were elected when the town still operated with a three-member board, liked the idea. They agreed they both had to vote on a budget they really were unfamiliar with when they were first elected.
 
Francesconi added that at the time only one veteran board member was on the board meaning two-thirds of the board were seeing the budget for the first time.
 
The Selectmen voted to move the Cheshire Police cruiser phone to dispatch to correct communication issues.
 
"It has been an ongoing issue in town to contact the Police Department," Francesconi said. 
 
She said the cruiser's cell phone often goes unanswered and has a full voicemail.
 
She said the only cost would be to run a phone line to dispatch.
 
Dispatch would be able to monitor the number and if a police officer was not on duty, the state police could be dispatched. 
 
The selectmen agreed to restart in-person meetings next week and invite the public to their meetings at the former elementary school.
 
They agreed to continue providing a remote option.
 
"I think we should keep this so people still have the option if they don't want to come," Biagini said. "I think they should still have both options at least for now."
 
Town offices are scheduled to open June 1.
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Cheshire Selectmen Discusses Town Meeting Results, Considers Job Descriptions

By Gregory FournieriBerkshires Staff

CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen is excited to welcome a new full-time town administrator to Cheshire.

The board discussed at its regular meeting Tuesday the results of the town meeting earlier this week. Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said that Monday's town meeting brought "amazing news with the approval of the town administrator position."

The rest of the board agreed. Member Ray Killeen said that "early on … you knew which way [the vote for the full-time town administrator] was going," based on the comments by the town members and the applause that greeted those who supported the measure.

Francesconi said the town's selection for the post, Jennifer Morse, will be able to start soon after July 4. The board, however, has not yet negotiated her contract.

Some board members expressed disappointment that the recall measure, Article 17, did not pass. They said that in hindsight, they should have had some guidelines as to what type of behavior rose to the level of recall. They also said they should have upped the required signatures to oust a current member to more than 3 percent of registered voters, or 100 signatures, whichever was lower, as many of the criticisms of that measure centered around the low number of signatures.

Killeen said some voters may also have been confused about the change of some town officials (town clerk, tax collector) from elected to appointed. He said they may not have been aware that this would come up for a vote later, and that their vote at the town meeting was not final.

In other news:

  • The board reviewed job descriptions for some of the appointed officials in town. Members spent a lot of time discussing the harbormaster position, saying they wanted it to be a more educational position, rather than a punitive one.
  • Francesconi asked Police Chief Tim Garner if they could re-letter the harbormaster boat to say "Harbormaster." Currently it says it is owned by the Police Department, but because the harbormaster position is not a law-enforcement officer, Francesconi argued that the current boat-lettering could confuse some swimmers and boaters.
  • Garner reported that he is retiring next year, in 2022, and that he should be succeeded by a full-time police chief.
  • Garner also said police reform efforts in Massachusetts could have some drastic consequences for small-town police departments like Cheshire's. Since Cheshire's department is staffed by mostly part-time officers and its budget is a relatively small part of Cheshire's overall budget, additional training requirements for police departments will likely eat into Cheshire's police staffing.
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