After 26 years at Town Hall, Bourbeau to retire as Montague town clerk

  • Montague Town Clerk Deb Bourbeau announced at this month’s Special Town Meeting that she plans to retire. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2023 1:50:33 PM

MONTAGUE — After 26 years working in Town Hall, longtime Town Clerk Deb Bourbeau says she is ready to “live life to the fullest from here on out.”

Bourbeau, 65, alluded to her retirement during Montague’s Special Town Meeting earlier this month in an announcement she said surprised even herself. While unplanned, her announcement was prompted by deliberation over whether Montague’s town clerk position should be changed to an appointed rather than elected position. Town Meeting voters ultimately approved making the town clerk position appointed by a majority vote.

“It seemed like the perfect opportunity to say it’s real,” Bourbeau said. “It’s happening. I’m leaving this year, so we have to think about it this year.”

At the meeting, Bourbeau argued that the transition from an elected position to an appointed position has been necessitated by the job becoming “increasingly complex,” a reason she later cited as impetus for her retirement. Having to follow different sets of laws unique to voting by mail, in-person early voting, accessible voting and voting for those who live away in the military is what most significantly contributed to the job’s increased complexity. Furthermore, new mandates that have town clerks working “lots of weekends with no pay” have worn Bourbeau down, she said.

“It’s a burden,” she said in an interview. “You just don’t have enough hours in a day to do all the other aspects of your job that you care about doing well. Too many balls in the air that you have to juggle, and one is bound to fall.”

One particular ordeal that Bourbeau said partially “cinched the deal” for her to retire was having to prepare state primary polling locations last Labor Day, the day before polling took place. This, she said, was an irrational ask due to how school buildings, which commonly served as polling locations, were closed for the holiday.

“Sometimes, it feels like they’re setting us up to fail, and I don’t want to,” she said. “You can’t fail at democracy.”

Bourbeau, who grew up in Framingham, said she “married a Turners boy” and moved to Montague in 1981.

“It was a culture shock for me, coming from a town that’s now a city with 60,000 people in it with everything at your fingertips, and you have to go a country mile to get the things I used to just go out and get on a dime,” said Bourbeau, who later grew to love the change of pace.

“I wouldn’t trade it now. I wouldn’t go back,” she said. “The people here are just great. It’s just like one big family. We back each other up. We’re there for each other.”

Her work at Town Hall began in the tax collector’s office in 1997, where she worked until 2004. She then served as assistant town clerk from 2004 to 2006, at which point she was appointed to fill the role of then-Town Clerk John Zywna, who was retiring. She ran for the seat at the next town election to finish the rest of Zywna’s term, winning and continuing a tenure that would last nearly two decades.

Although her role has become more stressful lately, Bourbeau said her work as town clerk has felt overwhelmingly gratifying through the years. Her favorite part of the job, she said, is “that warmth that you get from people coming into your office.”

“You’re serving your own community,” she said. “You’re serving your own people. ... This is the first job where I actually woke up and went to work with a smile on my face every day. … Some days, it’s just like a little party.”

Bourbeau’s love for the people of Montague is mutual, as evidenced during this month’s Special Town Meeting when attendees let out a collective gasp in response to her announcement. However, perhaps few will miss Bourbeau more than Assistant Town Clerk Kathern “Beanie” Pierce, who has worked alongside Bourbeau for five years. Pierce glowed when talking about Bourbeau, whom she described as “a generally happy person” with a “willingness to always help, no matter what is on her desk.”

“We are yin and yang,” Pierce said. “We are not exactly the same, but we work well together. … Not only do I respect her, but I love her.”

Aside from her work, Bourbeau said a desire to spend more time with family heavily influenced her decision to retire. She looks forward to spending more time with her four grandchildren, as well as traveling to Italy with her husband, who retired just over a year ago.

Transition planning

Bourbeau doubled down on the notion that Pierce would excel as her successor after publicly endorsing her at Special Town Meeting. Pierce is “ahead of the curve,” Bourbeau said, with Pierce having closely observed her work for five years. Bourbeau contrasted this with her own prior experience as an assistant town clerk, which only lasted two years.

“She is going to be a wonderful town clerk,” Bourbeau said. “I have no qualms about leaving because I know she’s going to do a fabulous job.”

Pierce confirmed that she is “very interested in being a successor” to Bourbeau once she retires.

“Of course, there are large shoes to fill and a lot of moving parts, but I’m up for the challenge,” she said.

Town Administrator Steve Ellis said at last week’s Selectboard meeting that it would be beneficial to begin the hiring process in April “to have an orderly succession” prepared in time for the annual town election vote that would affirm the transition of the town clerk position from elected to appointed. The standard hiring process involves “assembling a group of collaborating department heads with a couple of board members who might collaborate very closely” to serve as a hiring committee, Ellis explained.

Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz said it could be advantageous to have the committee handle the hiring process for multiple positions within the town clerk’s office. Montague will seek either a new town clerk or assistant town clerk depending on which position Pierce holds following the election, as well as a new administrative assistant.

“After the successful hiring of the two new positions, Deb will be assisting in the extensive training of the assistant town clerk and the administrative assistant while Kathern continues to concentrate on her own role as the new town clerk,” a statement from the town clerk’s office reads.

The town will explore expanding the workspace of employees who work in the town clerk’s office. The most realistic plan would involve repurposing the first floor’s Selectboard conference room, Ellis said, labeling it a “misnomer,” considering the board practically never meets in the space. Having another room in addition to retaining the existing town clerk’s office workspace would potentially allow for the construction of two new workstations, Ellis explained.

“One of those might be the actual town clerk’s workspace, which would afford a bit more of a semi-private office space, if you will, and also have an extra workstation there for the state computer,” Ellis told the Selectboard, noting that the town may hire a project director to make these decisions.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or


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