PEPPERELL -- With Pepperell's town charter a month away from submission to the state, the Pepperell Charter Commission solicited feedback from the Board of Selectmen and other town officials Wednesday night on issues including hiring procedures and the role of the town administrator.
The charter draft strengthens the position of the town administrator by giving that person responsibility for appointing department heads.
It also redefines the budget process by having department heads submit their budgets to the administrator, who would then submit an overall budget to selectmen and then the Finance Committee for review.
"The town administrator can't do anything unilaterally. We're not creating a town manager," Commission Chairman Joseph Sergi said, adding that there were checks and balances in the document to ensure the administrator role didn't expand too far.
Sergi said an overhaul of the structure of town government was suggested by the state Department of Revenue. He said the structural deficit Pepperell is still working to get out of is proof that an overhaul was needed.
"Something is structurally wrong with the organization that allows for that," Sergi said.
Planning Board member Anna MacDonald expressed concern that the charter expands the role of the town administrator too far.
"You're creating a total powermonger here," MacDonald said on giving the administrator the power to appoint department heads.
Sergi countered by
"There is no power grab. It's making government more efficient and recreating what other towns have been doing for years and years," Sergi said.
He said town administrators would appoint department heads based on the recommendations of the boards, and that the boards could appeal any appointments that they disagree with to selectmen within 15 days.
"There is no other step other than the status quo, and the status quo got us into this mess that we can't get out of," Sergi said of the deficit.
Town Administrator John Moak said he agreed with the decision to allow the administrator to appoint department heads.
"Elected boards are policy setters, they're not about managing departments. That's what elected government is about," Moak said.
Selectmen Chairman Stephen Themelis suggested small changes, including a reconsideration of the composition of the board that would appoint the fire chief. After discussion, the commission decided not to make that change.
Selectman Michael Green asked that the document elaborate on ways of communicating with residents, saying the town website should be the primary method of communication.
After submitting the document to the attorney general and the Department of Housing and Community Development on Aug. 26, the commission is required to hold a public hearing within four weeks.
The charter will then be submitted to selectmen for review in October, and put before Town Meeting in the spring.
The Charter Commission will be meeting every Wednesday in August to give residents an opportunity to express concerns about the document.
"We're all in this together. We're all trying to make this a better place," Sergi said.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein at Twitter.com/CEFeinstein.