HARVARD -- Selectmen at their meeting last week revisited a topic they've taken up more than once before: hiring a professional town planner. But this time the discussion was not simply academic. The issue came up because the Planning Board is proposing it.

"I'm uncertain what the Planning Board had in mind," Chairwoman Lucy Wallace said.

It was clear to Bill Johnson, though. Johnson, who has been a strong proponent of the idea, serves as selectmen liaison to the Planning Board. "They voted three to one to look at proposals" and to hire a full-time planner, he said.

The position would be full time or nearly so, with benefits and a salary of about $65,000. Ultimately, the proposal would come before Town Meeting, he said, adding that the Finance Committee invited Planning Board members to "come and talk to us" about it.

In that case, "what does it matter now what this board thinks?" Wallace asked. The question for her seemed to be why a board whose primary reason for being is to create a master plan and facilitate the planning process needs to hire someone to do that job.

Johnson said the Planning Board felt there were "a number of strategic planning and operating tasks," to justify the position, including elements of the master plan, such as bylaw changes. Also, the Housing Trust and the Parks and Recreation Commission had indicated "strong interest" in using a professional planner's services, he said.


Besides benefits, the Planning Board also identified potential cost savings, Johnson said, citing fewer hired consultants with a professional planner on board and less need to turn to legal counsel. An in-house professional would also retain "historic knowledge" that a shifting array of consultants does not provide, and there would be "consistency" in coordinating tasks, he said.

"Job description aside, we have to discuss where the position would fit," Johnson continued. For example, who would the planner report to and which boards would he or she assist? "I think that's part of the deliberation process," he said.

As discussion continued, some at the table felt the proper venue to vet the idea would be an All Boards meeting. Wallace, however, felt that could get unwieldy, with so many entities in the room and multiple agendas on the table.

Instead, she favored inviting the Planning Board in for a talk.

Solbavarro agreed that might be the best next step. But Johnson seemed frustrated.

"Why are we shying away from an opportunity to discuss this issue with all the boards and departments?" he asked.

In the end, board members decided they could do both, agreeing to start the conversation by asking the Planning Board to come to the next selectmen's meeting on Nov. 20.