A Town Meeting article introduced by the Board of Selectmen to change the position of Town Clerk from elected to appointed overwhelmingly failed Monday night.

Debate started when Finance Committee member Melissa Donohoe presented the committee’s recommendation that the position of Town Clerk be elected as part of the continuing professionalization of town government. Professionalizing Duxbury’s town functions has been a long-term goal in the wake of Duxbury’s adoption of the Town Manager Act in 1987. The article would have allowed the town’s election watchdog to fall under the purview of the elected Board of Selectmen. “This article is not about the Town Clerk, but about the future of the Town Clerk position,” said Donohoe, explaining appointing the position would enhance the ability of the town to hire a professional with the appropriate credentials to ensure all of the position’s responsibilities were adequately fulfilled. “Keeping the position elected limits the pool of qualified candidates.”

Shawn Dahlen, Chair of the Board of Selectmen, next took to the podium in support of the measure.

“You elect us to do two things,” said Dahlen. “To do the easy stuff and to do the hard stuff.”

In his statement, he made clear how much he respects current Town Clerk Nancy Oates and the job she’s performed in her 29 years in office. He reiterated this was not about the person, but about the position. As Dahlen spoke, Oates watched from the Performing Arts Center (PAC) stage, unsmiling, and retiring Selectman Chris Donato got up from the board’s table to stand with her. Dahlen said it was his responsibility and the responsibility of all of the town’s management to ensure Duxbury is able to fill the position from the widest pool of qualified candidates and elections don’t necessarily offer that ability.

“What the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee are thinking about is when Nancy doesn’t want to be Town Clerk anymore,” said Dahlen.

While it wasn’t about the person but the position for town officials, for residents, it appeared to be very much about Oates herself.

Resident George Wadsworth took to one of the microphones scattered around the PAC to voice his opposition to the article. He began by stating this was an emotional issue for him. As he spoke, people at Town Meeting took to social media sites to talk about Oates. Paula Harris wrote on Twitter, “Nancy Oates delivered my marriage certificate to Holy Family the day of my wedding b/c I didn’t apply in time...service!” For Wadsworth, his greater concern was preserving the system of checks and balances having an elected Town Clerk gave when it came time to local elections.

“I guess where I’m concerned is this is an individual who watches over the electoral process, and do we want that person who watches over the electoral process, do we want them to be elected?” Wadsworth asked. “It’s this individualism, these checks and balances, that I think are important to the election process.”

But it was Oates herself who made the case to keep the position elected. She spoke twice, managing to elicit laughter from the crowd and applause. She, too, said the measure was not about the person, but the position, and that her goal was to maintain the integrity of the town by keeping it elected.

“Now before I read (my speech), take a good look at me,” said Oates. “As one of the selectman said, ‘she’s 81, maybe she’ll retire soon…’ There’s plenty of qualified people in our town, we don’t need to go out of town to find someone for so personal a job.”

A vote was taken soon after and failed.