BOSTON - A Town Meeting-approved home rule petition, seeking to shrink the size of the Ayer Board of Selectmen from 5- to 3-members, was the subject of a Statehouse hearing today. One person testified on House Bill 1481 - Ayer selectman Frank Maxant, who has openly opposed the change in the past.
Maxant neither testified for or against the measure. Maxant did as he'd told the full board of selectmen the night before - he did not testify as an official representative of the board, though he did sign in as and identify himself as a sitting Ayer selectman.
Maxant presented the committee of Municipalities and Regional Government a copy of a time line which was made available to Town Meeting voters, explaining the change process. The fact sheet listed out key dates which would "need to occur."
The first hurdle was cleared - Article 32 at the May 2012 Annual Town, passed on a vote of 106-95. Once passed, the timeline suggested that the petition would be filed with the legislature in "Spring, 2012." According to a copy of the warrant language and Clerk's certified vote provided by Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, the selectmen's office sent the matter on to State Sen. Jamie Eldridge on July 25, 2012 with a copy to State Rep. Sheila Harrington.
By Jan. 13, 2013, the measure was to be approved by the state legislature, sparking a selectmen vote to call a Special Election for no later than Feb. 17, 2013. The Special Election was to provide voters a second-bite-at-the-apple, according to the fact sheet. As the legislature has yet to act, the Special Election deadline has come and gone.
The net effect is that voters have not yet had a second look at the change proposal, and so the April 30 Town Election will take place under the rubric that the five-man board of selectmen remains intact - at least for now.
Regarding the 11-vote passage rate for the article at Town Meeting, Arlington State Representative Sean Garballey said, "That's a pretty close vote." Garballey asked what the "naysayers" had to say about the measure.
Maxant explained that it was a "very hotly contested issue in town," but that the arguments for and against the change were predictable. Those opposed to the size of the current five-man board lobbied that there are "too many selectmen who argue too much" while those who favor the current set up lobbied that "five heads are better than three," said Maxant.
Committee co-Chair, Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown advised Garballey that, unlike cities, the Town Meeting is "in effect the legislative branch. I know you come from a city."
Individuals petition, Town Meetings vote, and for certain special acts "they come to us for enactment," said Peake. "If the language is on the warrant or if it's the desire of the community, often the special act will go back to the voters at the next election."
With two opportunities to vote, "You can win at Town Meeting and loose at the ballot box," said Peake. Peake pledged to "work with" Ayer State Rep. Sheila Harrington to "insert that language." Before the legislation leaves committee, Peake said the panel intents to have "all t's crossed and i's dotted."
Maxant asked that the Special Election vote be included in the final bill "to help us keep faith with our voters." Maxant also suggested that staffers for Sen. Jamie Eldridge have "called into question" Ayer's "impression" that a Special Election was required for the change to take place. Still, Maxant noted, that the need for a Special Election was a representation made to voters.
Maxant noted that Sudbury Town Meeting, also in Eldridge's district, voted to convert upward from a 3- to a 5-member board of selectmen. Maxant said the legislature "conditioned" passage of the home rule petition on such a Special Town Election. "We're asking for a parallel response," said Maxant.
After an hour and a half of testimony on dozens of bills, the committee voted out favorably on most of the bills - but held back on HR 1841 to ensure the discussed Special Election language was vetted anew.
If passed by voters at Special Election, at the April Annual Town Election, there was to be a race for all three seats: One carrying a three year term, another with a two year term, and a third with a one year term. Thereafter the terms would be filled for three years each.
The terms of all five sitting selectmen were to be terminated.
The timeline did include a caveat - "if the special act were not enacted timely, then the rest of this schedule could not be met, and the reduction in the size of the Board of Selectmen could not occur until the April 28, 2014 Annual Town Election."
When approved by the legislature, the home rule petition states, "In order to provide for a reduction of the number of members from 5 to 3, there shall appear on the ballot at the first annual election occurring at least 64 days following acceptance of this act the office of selectman, with the instruction "vote for three" and such other information as will aid the voters."
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