Orange Selectboard discusses making town clerk an appointed post

  • Orange Town Hall, where the town clerk works. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2020 4:54:24 PM

ORANGE — Selectboard members on Wednesday evening debated the idea of converting town clerk from an elected position to an appointed one.

Although no vote was taken, the board agreed to gather more input from residents and discuss the topic again at a future meeting.

Chair Ryan Mailloux asked current officeholder Nancy Blackmer, who has been on the job since 1999, for insight on the matter. Through the online conferencing platform Zoom, Blackmer explained a motion authorizing the change must appear on an Annual Town Meeting warrant and, if adopted, the decision would have to be ratified at a regularly scheduled town election. The next opportunity is the election on May 17, 2021.

Blackmer said the conversion, if approved, would take effect when her current three-year term ends in March 2023. She mentioned she could then retire, unless she preemptively informs the Selectboard she is interested in being appointed to the position.

Mailloux asked for her opinion on the issue.

“I have mixed emotions on the subject. There are benefits to keeping it elected; there are benefits to making it appointed,” she said, adding that she will not state an opinion on the matter so as to remain impartial due to the fact that, as town clerk, she runs the local elections.

A town clerk’s duties also include issuing licenses, certificates and notifications, and other administrative work.

Blackmer explained her mother served as town clerk years ago, at which time many of the duties were carried out in home offices. The younger Blackmer started part-time in 1999 and went full-time the following year, following in the immediate footsteps of longtime Town Clerk Shirley Page.

She said 2020 has been a “crazy year,” due mostly to the pandemic, and managing the town clerk’s responsibilities would have been extremely difficult for a newcomer.

“Even those of us who are seasoned clerks are pulling our hair out,” she said, adding that town clerk mistakes can cause problems, financial and otherwise, for Orange.

Mailloux said he supports converting the position to an appointed one. Likewise, Selectboard Vice Chair Jane Peirce said she has long been in support of the change.

“Elections don’t always turn up the most qualified person,” Peirce said.

Similarly, member Pat Lussier said she prefers to think of the proposed process not as an appointment, but as a hiring of the most qualified individual.

Member Alexandre Schwanz was the lone dissenting voice on the issue.

“I don’t think it makes sense,” he said. “Having somebody come from outside would be a mistake. … I don’t think that’s what Orange wants. I don’t think it’s in Orange’s best interest.”

Mailloux noted he would be remiss not to mention that Schwanz took to his campaign Facebook page to lay out his opposition to the idea.

“Some of (the posts) I just couldn’t agree with in the slightest,” Mailloux said.

Schwanz’s opinions, emailed to the Greenfield Recorder, state “a significant salary increase would be necessary to recruit an appointed town clerk.” He said Blackmer earns less than $50,000 a year and the salaries of appointed town clerk positions on the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s website start at more than $76,000. He also said the “newly appointed office would be perpetually filled by inexperienced professionals seeking to start their careers and then move on to bigger and better positions.”

Schwanz also said someone who is not an Orange resident will not understand the community’s character. This proved to be a particular point of contention with Mailloux, who mentioned Schwanz also emailed the other Selectboard members.

“I found it very offensive,” Mailloux said of that particular opinion, adding that the town administrator, highway superintendent and police chief reside outside of Orange and “couldn’t be more dedicated to their positions if they tried.” It was also pointed out that anyone who wanted to run for the elected position could submit a job application for the appointed position.

Mailloux also chastised Schwanz for what he considered to be a “divisive technique,” which Schwanz immediately objected to, causing Mailloux to ask Schwanz’s microphone to be temporarily muted.

One of Schwanz’s social media posts mentioned that “Procedure to make the Town Clerk Position Appointed” had been included in Wednesday’s meeting agenda, but said “there haven’t been discussions among selectmen about whether this is the right direction for this town.” He said Orange residents have been caught by surprise.

But Mailloux and Peirce said this is how town business is conducted — residents bring up issues to Selectboard members, who ask the chair to include the topic on an upcoming agenda so it can be discussed in a public forum.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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