Cohasset Selectmen not happy with governance committee

Selectmen took no action on either of the citizens’ petitions. Advisors will contemplate these two articles at their meeting this Thursday (3/27).

Two citizens’ petitions submitted by friends of the governance committee will appear on the town meeting warrant for the April 28th town meeting. According to Governance Chair Mary Jo Larson, the citizens’ petitions represent the work of the governance committee.

Selectmen took no action on either of the citizens’ petitions. Advisors will contemplate these two articles at their meeting this Thursday (3/27).

The rationale for governance going the petition route is that governance felt the selectmen might not like their proposed changes. And they were correct.

Larson, Sam Wakeman and Ralph Dormitzer asked selectmen to support a citizens’ petition regarding recommended changes to the town’s bylaws which Larson’s and Wakeman’s spouses had signed, but which they did not.

Governance committee member Ralph Dormitzer was the first signer on the citizens’ bylaw petition

Selectmen said they might support the citizens’ petition if changes were made to the bylaws upgrade document.

Larson said she might come back to the selectmen with changes before the warrant went to press, but it was pointed out that a citizens’ petition cannot be changed in any manner, and so governance and/or selectmen would have to create a new warrant article to incorporate desired changes.

Selectmen said they would not endorse the governance’s bylaw upgrade for these reasons:

Selectmen do not like the town manager search stipulations. Larson said selectmen had hired Chris Senior without a search committee, but she misspoke. The Collins Center was both the search committee and the recruitment committee. Later during discussion Selectman Steve Gaumer questioned whether the Collins Center would be considered a search committee under the new bylaw.

Selectmen Karen Quigley said governance’s language usurped selectmen’s constitutional powers. While some bylaw language hints that an outside consultant can be utilized, it appeared the consultant would be supporting the citizens’ committee, she said, adding that the bylaw language should be as broad and flexible as possible.  

A citizen’s search committee would involve citizens in the search and legitimize the search, according to Dormitzer.

Selectman Martha Gjesteby said the selectmen did involve citizens in the process through the extended and extensive interviews with town department heads and boards.

Defending the board’s hiring of the Collins Center, Select Chair Fred Koed  said the Collins center was able to have many in-depth conversations with candidates that would not be possible with a citizens’ committee. Consequently, candidates felt comfortable applying.

Quigley said the bylaws should reflect the town manager’s act, and not add additional language. She stressed that the future boards of selectmen should not be restricted in bringing in professional consultants.

Koed agreed that the bylaw language was difficult to comprehend.  He said language seemed to force a citizens’ search committee, and then after the candidates it produced were rejected, then maybe selectmen had the right to hire professional consultants, but it was not clear. “The town manager act is straight forward, this is like taking something with no conflict and enumerating upon it further.”

Selectman Diane Kennedy said the language in the citizens’ petition had evolved from numerous meetings. “This is just saying we ‘shall’ solicit (search committee) applications from the community. Quigley objected to the “shall,” saying it should be “may solicit,” giving selectmen the option of who would serve on the search committee.

Larson said perhaps the line about professional services was in the wrong place.

“I’d be more comfortable if it actually gave the selectmen the option of choosing a professional consultant or a citizen-based search committee,” Quigley said. She added that selectmen should never be on a selection committee, that it gave that one selectman unfair knowledge of the selection process and might unintentionally influence others.

According to Wakeman, governance felt having a selectman on the committee would provide direction.

Citizen Agnes McCann said governance was charged with reviewing and resolving the bylaws, they were not instructed to add to it. Said the committee had morphed into something much different.

Quigley stated she felt that people who write the laws should write the bylaws. “The work you did should have been sent to town counsel and should have been written in the best interests of the town.” She said she understood that governance asked town counsel reviewed the bylaws with respect to legality, only.  

The bylaw update  proposes to make the budget planning committee a standing committee. But budget planning does not appear in the town manager’s act, and so this was an addition, Quigley said.

Budget planning should not be codified at this time, Quigley said. She said budget planning was only a planning group, a way to get all town factions around a table and talk about town issues. But Quigley said was never intended for this group to have any authority over the budget, as they were advisory to the town manager.

According to Quigley, Dormitzer once told her that the budget planning group was a very dangerous thing, as it would in time undermine the authority of the advisory committee and the town manager.

Gaumer disagreed; saying budget planning had never taken a commanding role. He said in a city government there are paid operational people to assist the city manager. In a small town the town manager talks to his committee experts. Gaumers said budget planning should be codified and continue on. Kennedy agreed.  

Koed and Quigley both thought this was something Town Manager Chris Senior should chew on.

Quigley thought the mission of budget planning should be examined, as it had exceeded its authority.

Dormitzer agreed with Quigley. “I don’t want to usurp the authority of the town manager.”

Koed asked governance to take back its bylaws and come with a new direction.

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SHOULD GOVERNANCE BECOME A STANDING COMMITTEE?

The second governance committee citizens’ petition asks town meeting to vote to make it a standing committee that would be appointed by the Troika, rather than the selectmen.

The majority of the board of selectmen said they would not support this petition article. Late last year selectmen voted to sunset governance at the conclusion of town meeting.

First signer Merle Brown, a member of governance, said many more things needed to be changed in the bylaws. “I never want a town counsel fix the bylaws, we need to have the people of the town look at this. We had a great group, new people who have never been involved in politics before,” Brown said. He added that many other members had experience in town government, on elected and appointed boards.

Brown said he was asked the selectmen’s support so that governance could continue its work.

Dormitzer said governance was not a charter commission but was acting as one. He wondered why town counsel passes it mattered whether it was elected or appointed as everything anyway.

Selectman Martha Gjesteby disagreed with Dormitzer, saying that a charter commission is elected and high regulated.

Brown said governance had been working on bylaw changes and the town manager’s act for three years ad “We’re still not done. A charter commission has to do it in 18 months.”

Kennedy made a motion to put the article to make governance a standing committee on the warrant. Gaumer seconded it. Ultimately, Kennedy withdrew her motion realizing it would not pass.

Gjesteby said it should be left as a citizens’ petition.

If the article should pass at town meeting, and the Troika were making the appointments, Quigley felt the Troika should be given guidance regarding backgrounds of people needed to serve on governance.

Gaumer agreed with Quigley, saying a Troika appointment would take the political assignment away from the board. 

Saying he had issues with the scope of the article, Koed noted that last year governance claimed executive powers when it sent a letter to the legislature saying the passage of the town manager act was an emergency.

“Three separate boards of selectmen have had the intention that this committee would sunset,” Koed said. Maybe we need a bylaw committee that looks at the bylaws.”

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