A second attempt in as many years to change the town clerk’s position from elected to appointed was shot down by Duxbury voters on Saturday.
The final article of the Special Town Meeting was a proposal by the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager René Read to switch the town clerk’s position from being elected by the voters to appointed by the town manager. A similar move was rejected by voters at the 2012 Annual Town Meeting; that article sought to have selectmen appoint the position. Residents also defeated the same issue at town meeting in 1998.
This year, voters were concerned that this change was on the special town meeting warrant and some were upset it was coming up before them yet again.
Residents defeated STM Article 11 by approving a motion to indefinitely postpone it. This motion passed on a vote of 134 to 90. Under the guidance of Town Meeting moderator Friend Weiler Sr., voters also tried out their electronic balloting devices, which registered a vote of 127 to 88 in favor of the indefinite postponement.
In introducing Article 11, Read said that the change he proposed was not a reflection on the job of outgoing town clerk Nancy Oates, who is retiring after 31 years. At town meeting, Oates received federal, state and local commendations for her years of dedicated service. According to Read, the move was “to address the need for a qualification-based process” when hiring a town clerk.
“Too much is at stake to leave such an important position to chance,” Read said, adding that an elected town clerk did not receive annual performance reviews, was not subject to disciplinary measures, had no limits on vacation or sick time, and could choose never to show up for work once elected but would still collect a paycheck.
Read said he placed this article on the special town meeting warrant because the annual town meeting warrant closed on December 16 and Oates informed him of her decision to retire on December 30. Read said he did not want to re-open the annual town meeting warrant, although selectmen have done so many times in the past to add or delete articles before the warrant has been printed.
“It has not been my practice to open and close the annual town meeting warrant,” Read said.
Surplus Street resident Jeanne Clark took issue with the decision to act on this change in the special town meeting, which is usually reserved for routine actions such as making budget transfers and paying late bills.
“I was appalled and aghast that this article would be placed in the special town meeting,” said Clark. “This is much too important.”
Oates gave a speech she said she wrote in 1998 when town meeting voters first defeated the proposal to appoint Duxbury’s town clerk. At that time, supporters of the article, which was offered by the Town Management Study Committee, said the town clerk’s position had mushroomed into a full-time, highly paid job that demanded certain qualifications that a person running for this office may not possess. Then, Oates had been in the position for 15 years.
Oates said that as the only full-time elected town official, the town clerk provided a “unique link” to citizens because the job “was clearly visible and accessible to people on a daily basis.”
She said she strongly believes that the position should be elected because that way a town clerk could remain impervious to being influenced by anyone, such as an appointing authority, when conducting elections, recording votes and certifying appropriations of funds.
“The town clerk in Duxbury has been elected for 377 years,” said Oates. “I have complete faith in the election process.”
Residents provided similar views.
“I think this should go down in flames,” said Amy MacNab of Tobey Garden Street. “Once you make the town clerk’s position appointed, it will never go back to being elected. I hope we will defeat it and stop this debate from coming back again.”
At the March 22 town election, Duxbury voters can choose their new town clerk; there are three people running for the position.