If voters at the annual Town Meeting March 10 decide to change the town clerk’s position from elected to appointed, they won’t see that change on the ballot until the March 2013 town election.
And when residents do see the ballot next year, it may be confusing because it will ask voters to both approve the change to an appointed position and also elect a town clerk.
At their meeting Monday, selectmen briefly discussed an opinion from Town Counsel Robert Troy that explains how the process of changing the town clerk’s job from an elected to an appointed position would work. Selectmen did not give their opinions about the article, saying they planned to vote on it at an upcoming meeting.
Article 24 seeks to amend the office of town clerk from elected by the voters to an appointment made by the Board of Selectmen. This will take an affirmative vote at the 2012 annual Town Meeting and also another vote 35 days after Town Meeting at an additional annual town election.
The town’s annual election is held just two weeks after town meeting and the question of changing the town clerk position will not be on this year’s ballot, according to Troy. It must be placed on the March 2013 annual town election ballot.
However, that is when the current town clerk’s term expires. So voters will be asked to both vote on appointing a town clerk and actually electing a town clerk.
If incumbent Town Clerk Nancy Oates chooses to run for another three-year term in 2013 and wins the election, she must serve out her term, even if the town agrees to make the position an appointed one. If a non-incumbent seeks election as town clerk on the 2013 ballot and the town passes the change from elected to appointed, that individual does not have the same rights as an incumbent. The selectmen could then appoint their choice to become town clerk.
“This analysis is complicated when an elected office that is proposed to be made appointive is put before the voters on the same ballot where voters are asked to elect an individual to serve a term of office established by law,” wrote Troy in his Feb. 8 opinion.
Troy said “this perplexing result emanates from the town’s timetable.” The town could have avoided this confusion if it decided to call a special town meeting on the elected versus appointed issue before Jan. 23, 2012 and then the question could have been put to voters at the upcoming March 24 town election, stated Troy.
Despite the confusion it may cause, selectmen decided to keep this article on the warrant for Town Meeting.
“I’d like to see it go to the voters and be passed or not passed,” said Selectmen Chairman Shawn Dahlen. “Then we can take the next step and bring it as a ballot question.”
“I think we should keep it on the warrant,” said Selectman Ted Flynn