Cohasset Advisors shred governance articles

“This whole thing about voting for the budget is a crock, and it’s my fault and I readily go there,” Pescatore said.

The Cohasset Advisory committee dislikes almost everything about the governance committee’s citizen petitions, including the fact that they were citizen petitions and did not issue directly from the committee to the board of selectmen.

Governance chair Mary Jo Larson agreed it was an awkward situation. “This committee should have been able to report to selectmen before this time.”

Larson said Governance plans to meet at 8 a.m. Monday to discuss a re-representation of the bylaw changes suggested by selectmen and the advisory committee. Governance wants selectmen to put the proposed bylaw changes on the annual town meeting warrant. Advisors said they would take a new look at the article after changes had been made.    

A second citizens’ petition asks town meeting to make governance a standing committee. Advisors voted it down 7-2 against.  Lee Jenkins and George Chamillard voted yes.

April 11:  Deadline for all warrant articles

April 28:  Annual Town Meeting

May 10:  Town Elections

According to Sam Wakeman, a member of capital budget and the governance committee, concerned citizens filed citizens petitions because they thought selectmen might not put governance’s bylaw changes on the warrant.

Former governance chair Kevin McCarthy, who resigned from the committee to run for selectman in 2014, had written a letter to advisors saying the committee would produce a bylaws gap analysis to town officials by February 2014.

Advisory Rich Fitzpatrick wanted to know if the gap analysis was done and if the gaps were all addressed.

Wakeman and governance member Ralph Dormitzer said a complete renovation of the bylaws would take a long time, that there were many components to investigate, including the Human Resource (HR) factor. Dormitzer said personnel policies were difficult; they had to determine what rights employees’ unions had. Wakeman added that the financial management needs work.

(Selectmen recently paid town counsel to create an HR handbook with all current laws.  Town Manager Chris Senior has already hired an HR consultant, who may act as an assistant to the individual ultimately chosen to deal with human resources at town hall. It is doubtful the town needs any help from governance.)

Advisor George Chamillard said it was important that advisors vote in favor of making governance a standing committee.

The town’s current bylaw committee deals with style, not content, Wakeman said. He suggested that governance might well become the new bylaw committee.

 Town Manager Qualifications

Dormitzer told advisors that the proposed changes regarding the town manager’s qualifications came out of the town manager’s act and were blessed by town counsel. But Dormitzer misspoke.

At a meeting with town counsel in February, Paul Derensis suggested that the qualifications of the town manager follow the statute, telling Governance that the language they added outside of the statute: knowledge of Massachusetts’ municipal law and experience in collective bargaining procurement and human resources. “This could be a lawsuit that could go on for years,” DeRensis said.

Governance ignored his advice and kept the language.

Town Manager Search Committee

 Several advisors disagreed with governance over its search committee language.

The Statute states only that a search committee will be appointed.

The suggested bylaw change says the search committee will be composed of residents of Cohasset and the search committee will present the selectmen with candidates. If the selectmen reject all candidates recruited by the search committee, the selectmen may then terminate the search committee.

During discussion of this issue on February 4, DeRensis said the search committee language could more than frustrate a search. (Note that the process for choosing the current town manager, said to be fast-tracked by the Collins Center, took almost five months.)

Although town counsel advised against this, Dormitzer said the committee felt it was important to create a roadmap, advising selectmen of what a search committee should be.

Fitzpatrick said governance’s language about a search committee appeared to say the citizens’ committee shall be appointed. “I feel the search we just went through utilizing the Collins Center was successful and the person chosen was the top choice of all five selectmen. Hiring an outside search committee would be very difficult (to achieve) in lieu of what’s written here.”

Larson noted that governance had received the same concern from selectmen.

“Selecting the town manager is the responsibility of the selectmen, period,” Pescatore said.

“We’ve always had a search committee, up until now,” Dormitzer countered, saying it was important to include citizens to insure a community buy-in of the final choice.

Admitting he was not a big committee guy, Pescatore said in private business he’s always hired a consultant to look for candidates, never my managers. “There’s a lot of merit in keeping the local folks out of the search.”

Larson paraphrased some of the language offered by Selectman Steve Gaumer: “Selectmen may solicit search committee applicants and/or may choose to employ a professional consultant.”

Pescatore advised governance to keep it simple. “Forget the language. Selectmen should have the flexibility to conduct a search.”

 Budget Planning committee

Wakeman said governance wants budget planning codified (made a standing committee).

Fitzpatrick asked if that were outside the charge.

Advisory chair Peter Pescatore, who serves as chair of the budget planning committee, said he felt the committee had sort of drifted away from where it started. “I think it should be a think tank, not a committee that votes for or against the budget at meetings.  Budget’s vote is meaningless. It’s now focused on the current budget when it should be focused on the long-range impact of spending.

“This whole thing about voting for the budget is a crock, and it’s my fault and I readily go there,” Pescatore said.

Some of the things selectmen said about this petition were “impactful,” Pescatore said. He added that budget planning is not really Town Manager Chris Senior’s style. “He doesn’t like spreadsheets. He likes charts and graphs. We ought to give him (Senior) the prerogative on how he wants to set up his cabinet. It’s probably my fault. I got strident on this committee, trying to hold off Mr. Coughlin.  It became a way of life.  I feel budget planning has shifted.“

Wakeman wondered if it would be better to not codify budget planning at this time.

“Times are different now,” Pescatore said. “Budget planning was formed to address fiscal responsibility, but we now have professionals in positions of responsibility, it should be more of a kitchen cabinet kind of thing.”

Pescatore said he feels there was too much structure competing at the table.

Larson said she had spoken to Senior, who also was concerned about too much structure. “We discussed ways for capturing benefits of the school and town coming together, and how to shift things so we don’t lose it entirely.”

It was important, Pescatore said, to reconcile the town manager act with the bylaws. He pointed out that the town manager act doesn’t call for a budget planning committee. Also, he said governance’s line about a time frame for the Troika filling appointments to the advisory committee was meaningless. “What’s the point? It all depends on when you get candidates. We have to scour the woodwork, why the 60-day limit?  Who cares?”

“I think we all care,” Dormitzer said.

Pescatore wondered who would police the appointments time frame.

The committee then entered into a discussion about advisory committee term limits; but as governance was not charged only with updating the bylaws with respect to the town manager act, governance will not be changing advisory terms at this time.

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed