Orange voters to decide status of town clerk’s post

  • Voters approved all articles on the warrant for Orange’s Annual Town Meeting on Monday at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Orange Health Agent Matthew Fortier was recognized by town officials at Monday night’s Annual Town Meeting for his work during the COVID-19 pandemic. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/22/2021 4:59:00 PM

ORANGE — All articles on the warrant were approved as amended at Annual Town Meeting on Monday night, including bringing to ballot the question of whether the elected town clerk should instead be an appointed position.

The meeting took place in the auditorium at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, and in a first for the community, residents voted using handheld devices. Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer previously said Orange used Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to purchase a Meridia Interactive Solutions system that arrived a couple of weeks ago.

Few articles on the warrant generated much discussion, with the exception of Article 27, which asked voters to consider sending to the ballot a question of whether the town clerk should be an appointed position, rather than an elected position, as it is now.

Resident Ann Reed started the discussion with a plea to voters to vote against the article.

“This article presumes that in this town of 8,000 people … there’s an insufficient pool of candidates worthy of a some $50,000 clerical job, albeit a very respected clerical job,” she said. “This article also asks us to bid farewell to a very important piece of representation this town has had for centuries, and bid farewell to an important piece of democracy.”

Selectboard member Richard Sheridan agreed with Reed.

“The old saying is, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It’s not broken. The system has worked since I’ve been here,” Sheridan said.

He also remarked on other positions that have already switched from elected to appointed.

“This is one of the few ... that we actually have a say in, as citizens of Orange,” he said. “I would like to put it to rest tonight so it doesn’t come up on the ballot.”

Finance Committee member Kimberly Emond, however, supported bringing the question to a ballot vote, and in particular was supportive of town clerk becoming an appointed role.

“We’re going to be able to have a candidate pool, and have people to make that decision, rather than it be a popularity contest,” she said.

Selectboard member Patricia Lussier sought to clarify that the town clerk’s position is “more than just a clerical job.”

“That job has changed over the years. Many of us in this room can remember going to the town clerk’s home and doing business at their kitchen table. … It’s not that anymore.”

Lussier said the town has been fortunate that Blackmer has been in the position for so many years.

“We want to see the most qualified person go into the position,” she said. “It cannot be a popularity contest. If someone gets in there, and they’re not qualified, who’s going to step up and fix whatever happens?”

Ultimately, the article passed by a narrow two votes, with 37 in favor of the town voting at a future election on whether the position should be appointed, and 35 voting against.

In other business, voters approved a $22.6 million fiscal year 2022 budget.

“This process is difficult every year, although this year it was less difficult than it has been in recent years,” said Keith LaRiviere, chair of the Finance Committee. “There have been a few years when the Finance Committee was meeting half an hour before Town Meeting to finalize a budget. This year, we finalized it a month ago. I want to recognize the hard work everybody did to put this together.”

Voters also approved Article 17, which was amended to an amount of $242,349 compared to $306,000, to replace the Fire Department’s expiring self-contained breathing apparatus. The vote is contingent on a Proposition 2 ½ debt-exclusion override vote.

Fire Chief James Young explained the change was a result of the fact the department has applied for a grant to offset the full cost.

“If that grant is unsuccessful, then in an effort to reduce the financial impact to all of us as taxpayers, we’ve decided to reduce the quantity of units of breathing apparatus we purchase,” he said, explaining a self-contained breathing apparatus is what a firefighter wears on their back in environments with poor air quality.

The number of units was reduced from 34 to 27, Young added. He said the units being used now are about 15 years old and will soon no longer be compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.

“It was part of our capital improvement plan for this year,” Young said, “but it is a large purchase and … we decided to bring it to a debt exclusion vote.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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