SHIRLEY -- Appointing Finance Committee members by a joint vote of the three-member Board of Selectmen and the Town Moderator rather than the moderator alone was one of the proposed bylaw changes the Bylaw Review Subcommittee aired at a public hearing Monday night.
The idea drew fire but no favor from the other side of the table.
The hearing was only the first step in a process, Chairman Bryan Dumont pointed out.
The subcommittee would take input from the hearing into consideration when making its recommendations, he said. If they still think it's a good idea after further discussion and if it passes muster with legal counsel, then the proposed bylaw change will be presented as a warrant article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant in June, Dumont said.
But those who spoke up strongly objected to limiting the moderator's voice if FinCom appointments become a joint effort with all three selectmen, each having one vote.
Sketching the subcommittee's motivation, Dumont said the proposed move was aimed at improving the appointment process and, hopefully, the field of applicants, and if their statistics were not "significant," it was by design. The data came from a "targeted sample" of other towns surveyed, he said -- communities similar to Shirley in size and budget.
Town Moderator George Knittel, who is stepping down after 12 years, defended the status quo, in which Finance Committee appointments are the sole purview of the moderator. Reaching out personally to find members has worked well for him, he said, and the set-up that has worked well for Shirley for at least a decade should stand.
In a letter that he read aloud at the hearing, Knittel called the proposed change "bad policy," stating that selectmen should have "no part in appointing the Finance Committee." The review committee should withdraw its proposal, he said.
As he explained it, the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen represent a shared-power type of government, with Town Meeting as the legislative branch whose duty is "the making of laws and budgets" and the Board of Selectmen as the executive branch, which manages day-to-day town operations. The selectmen's support system consists of "many individuals," he said, while Town Meeting has as its support in the moderator and the Finance Committee.
"The Board of Selectmen is already the most powerful entity in town," Knittel said, and it is not in the people's best interest to give it more power.
Knittel's likely successor, Enrico Cappucci, objected to the three-to-one odds, among other things.
Cappucci is the only candidate running for the moderator's position.
Harking back to a New England form of government that dates to the 1700's, Cappucci said the founding fathers wanted to ensure "distinct separation of powers," which in his view would be at risk if the proposed bylaw change passed. It should be tabled, he said.
As a former selectman, Cappucci said he often disagreed with the Finance Committee but the difference of opinion was healthy. "That's good government," he said.
Finance Committee Chairman Mike Swanton also spoke strongly against the change, which his board recently discussed and voted to oppose.
Personnel Board Chairman and former FinCom member and chairman Paul Pryzbyla, who stands in for the moderator on occasion, also said the proposal should be scratched. "Separation of powers" is very important to good government, he said.
For example, FinCom controls the reserve account, use of which selectmen have no say in, and that's as it should be, Pryzbyla said. Although the two boards don't always agree, they interact respectfully and produce better results, he said.
Consisting of Town Clerk Amy MacDougall, Dumont, Frank Esielionis and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, the Bylaw Review Subcommittee is a spin off of the selectmen-appointed Government Study Committee.
Garvin said that reviewing town bylaws was one of the initiatives she proposed to selectmen after she was hired last year.