Chamillard steps down from Governance Committee

At the Cohasset Governance’s Sept. 13 meeting member George Chamillard stepped down from the committee saying he would continue to support the committee and its work as a non-voting citizen. Chamillard is a member of the advisory committee and by local bylaw cannot serve on another appointed board. Cohasset Selectmen were not not aware of this bylaw when Chamillard was appointed. We guess.

Town Clerk Carol St. Pierre will be invited to the committee’s next meeting to discuss whether her position should be appointed or elected. One of the concerns they have is that the assistant to the Town Clerk does not live in Cohasset and could not run for election as Town Clerk should St Pierre leave her position for any reason.

Other positions being discussed as possibly becoming appointed are recreation commission, board of health, and possibly housing authority – Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski is checking into whether the position has to be elected. Milanoski noted that many towns are moving elected positions to appointed. Water and sewer commissions are still part of the discussion as to whether they should be a combined, appointed board under the direct management of the Acting Town Manager and the Selectmen.

Governance feels the Strong Town Manager’s Act needs some better definitions with regard to the role of the Selectmen and their agent, the Town Manager.

Milanoski and Selectman Chair Paul Carlson both opined that changes to the Act could be made in stages. Milanoski questioned the board if it might want more of a town administrator form of government and several times during discussion suggested that governance take something to Dec. 10th Special Town Meeting. “Take the low-hanging fruit now,” he said. “You can come back later and do a philosophical view.”

Governance said no, it wasn’t ready for Dec. 10th.

Later Milanoski urged: “You were appointed as a microcosm of the community.  Bring  (sic) some changes to Special. Bring (sic) other things later.”

Carlson disagreed, saying spring town meeting was soon enough.

Committee member Merle Brown (a former two-term selectman) took issue with Cohasset Selectmen’s recent move to appoint Acting Town Manager Mike Milanoski to an extended 3-year contract. “Appointments should not be more than 180 days for Acting Town Manager.”

Ralph Dormitzer noted that the committee had already recommended a change in the Town Manager’s Act that would if voted by Town Meeting permit the Acting Town Manager to be appointed Town Manager. Changes the committee discussed at the last meeting included dropping qualifications for that office such as that person would no longer have to have had full time professional experience as a Town Manager. Also, the person could be serving on an appointed and/or elected boards at the time of the appointment.

Governance discussed asking the Selectmen to extend the Sunset of the committee to Christmas 2013. Originally, it was due to sunset December 31, 2012.

© Copyright 2012 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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  1 comment for “Chamillard steps down from Governance Committee

  1. Mike Coughlin
    September 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    The suggestion by Ralph Dormitzer that a simple vote by Town Meeting would allow an Acting Town Manager to be appointed a Town Manager is wrong because it is unlawful. Mr. Dormitizer has a reputation of getting his why but laws are funny things– only the legislature can change the Strong Town Manager Act. Yes – the first step is a Town Meeting vote to petition the legislature to change the act but the current act remains in effect if an until the legislature changes it.

    Secondly, by contrast Merle Brown is right about the limits of an interim appointment. While the Cohasset Strong Town Manager Act is silent on how long an Interim/Acting Town Manager can serve, a survey of communities around the Commonwealth reveals generally a six month term for an interim appointee which in extraordinary circumstances can be extended to nine to twelve months at the most.

    To that end, look at Sherborn where Town Attorney Paul DeRensis is a long serving selectmen and an officer of the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association. Sherborn had an interim administrator but now Sherborn is looking for a permanent Town Administrator.

    Don’t worry Paul, I won’t be applying to Sherborn but the question that needs to be answered is why are you advising Cohasset that a three year Interim Town Manager appointment is the way to go when you are doing just the opposite in your home town?

    The Governance Committee should also be sunset on schedule this December. From the get go its approach was flawed in the sense it failed to tap into the expertise of the two state agencies charged with helping communities that are considering changes in their governmental format.

    One is the Department of Housing and Community Development. An office in that department goes around the state and helps towns considering special acts and charter changes. They know what works and what doesn’t work. Most with experience in local government readily tap into that expertise. Why is Cohasset different?

    When I was Town Manager in Southbridge, that agency advised the Town on shrinking the Town Council from 13 members to 9 members. Former Selectmen Chair Ted Carr used to be a member of the Patrick administration and could have arranged it. Least we forget, the Governance Committee was set up to look into the Conservation Commission debacle. Any progress on that issue?

    The second agency to assist cities and towns make governmental changes is the Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services- Technical Assistance Office. This department is scheduled to begin a comprehensive Financial Management Review of Cohasset. The town would be wise to wait for that agency to issue its report before it considers changes to the qualifications for Town Manager should be changed.

    If the Governance Committee tapped into these agencies- they would also see that changing the Town Clerk from elected to appointed is a BAD IDEA. I have been a Town Manager in four communities– in three of those communities the clerk was elected and only one – Northbridge had a clerk that was appointed.

    Aside from the independence that an elected clerk has– which is essential in maintaining governmental integrity — the only benefit of an appointed clerk is control. The Chief Elections Officer of any community must remain above the fray of the political minefields which exist in local government. While this is not impossible if it the clerk is appointed, we must be realistic that it is made more difficult where the clerk reports to as opposed to coordinating with a Town Manager.

    Let me illustrated that point by way of an old war story. When the long time elected and then appointed clerk of Northbridge retired in November 2003, I was tasked with appointing her successor. I have been in the crazy game of politics and public service for a long time but I never saw the degree of political scheming which surrounded that appointment. When I choose the best qualified instead of the most politically connected, I paid a price. Seems I keep paying that price but government must function ethically. Put simply, the moral of that story– Town Clerks should be independently elected and beholding to no one but the people.

    So as Chairman Carlson has suggested– there is no need to rush changes at the fall special town meeting.

    By contrast, why is the Chairman of the Governance Committee pushing to change the form of government so quickly– as the old political axiom goes – “Does he have skin in the game?” or is it a possible conflict of interest – Does he stand to financially gain by a change in Cohasset’s form of government? Those questions need to be answered.

    His use of adage – “Low hanging fruit” should also be viewed with a critical eye. To that end, we must remember that more than 235 years ago, patriots in Boston used to post their complaints about the tyranny of the British on a tall oak which the Sons of Liberty called the “Liberty Tree” The Interim Town Manager would be wise to recall that our Revolutionary War begin when the British picked the “low hanging fruit” off that tree– namely the fundamental right of the American colonialist to local self government and democracy.

    In closing, the people of Cohasset are governed pursuant to the Strong Town Manager Act and until it is changed by the legislature it is the law. It is clear that some are trying to subvert that act. My commentary is not one of sour grapes on my behalf because I was ousted – those issues will be pursued in the near future in a court of law -the question is whether the people of Cohasset have a right to be governed pursuant to that act and whether the BOS will begin a proper process to name a permanent Town Manager.

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