PEPPERELL -- If approved by voters at next Monday's election, the new town charter would change the positions of town clerk and treasurer/tax collector from elected to appointed. That change, many officials said, would help to make the town government more efficient, although some doubts have been raised.
Chairman of the Charter Commission Joe Sergi, who helped to write the charter, said the change is based on Department of Revenue recommendations.
"Because they are day-to-day daily functions and not policy, they shouldmove from elected to appointed, which is the trend that is taking place generally in the commonwealth," Sergi said. "The commission reviewed the recommendation and agreed that given they draw large salaries of about $80,000 for the town clerk and about $100,000 for the treasurer, the present structure does not allow for any accountability or any daily oversight from the town administrator or Board of Selectmen."
Selectmen Chairman Stephen Themelis said the change fits in with the charter's overall goal of strengthening the town administrator role, which he supports.
"The idea was to make town government more effective, efficient and responsive at serving the needs of its residents, and I think the Charter Commission has done an inordinate amount of work to get there," Themelis said.
He said appointing the clerk and treasurer/collector will allow officials to find the best person for the job.
"It helps the select board and the town administrator to have more control over appointments by finding a more qualiffied person that specializes in those fields, and has the background, experiences and credentials to fill those responsibilities," he said.
Selectman Michael Green said he supported the charter 100 percent, including the transition from elected to appointed positions.
He said current treasurer/collector Debbie Nutter, who was appointed last May when the position became vacant and is now running for reelection, is a perfect example of why the position should be appointed.
"Because of the timing, we were able to recruit and build a big pool of candidates, assess their qualifications and make a decision, and since then Debbie has been able to reduce the town's back accounts by 75 percent," Green said.
He said that due to the importance of the two positions, the need to be able to review candidates is very important.
Town Administrator John Moak also said he supported the change.
"With both positions you look for qualified candidates that bring something to the table, be it education, be it experience. When you're doing an elected position that doesn't always happen," Moak said.
Town Clerk Jeffrey Sauer, who is resigning at the end of the upcoming election, said he can see why the change would be beneficial, but he also has some concerns.
"I certainly appreciate the idea that having the position open to people from out of town who may be more qualified than anyone currently available in town, I can appreciate where that would be a plus," Sauer said.
"What I am concered about is that the office as I've experienced it does much better if it's autonomous. There are checks and balances there to make sure that there's no undue pressure on the person running the elections in town. Is that a problem? I don't know, but if things are bad between the different branches of government the only thing you have to fall back on is that formality. If that formality is somehow compromised I think it's not as good," he said.
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