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Devens group likes strong administrator form of govt.

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DEVENS — The second draft of legislation that would amend Chapter 498 to create a town of Devens calls for creating a strong board of selectmen and administrator form of government.

Last week the draft drew favorable comments from the Devens Committee, which was quick to emphasize that nothing is yet set in stone, but should no further changes be suggested the language in the draft will take effect if Devens becomes a town.

The draft legislation was passed 5-1 by the six stakeholders with the Devens Enterprise Commission in the negative. Committee Chairman Michael Boucher said the vote was because it doesn’t want to lose any authority.

“Are the others going along with this?” asked committee member Thomas Kinch.

“It is all in principle with discussion at this point,” Boucher said.

He explained what “we want” is to have the enterprise commission as a “fast permitting authority” and a Board of Selectmen “to deal with character issues. I think MassDevelopment would support that,” said Boucher.

“Isn’t the idea that the town administrator makes recommendations to selectmen?” asked committee member Phillip Crosby.

“”Yes,” said Boucher. “The legislation is being written with a town structure, and if Devens does nothing, it becomes fact.”

“Are we five as a group concluding a town administrator (is preferable) to a town manager?” Kinch asked. “We said we wanted a strong town administrator with some of the duties of each (position). I don’t think I’ve watched long enough to come to a conclusion.”

“We can change it,” Boucher said.

“That’s clear in the documents?” Kinch asked.

Yes, said Winters.

“We wanted a fallback position,” Crosby said. “There’s so much going on we could drive ourselves crazy. If we do nothing and go to what’s set up (in the draft legislation) there’s nothing to say four or five years down the road it can’t be changed.”

The draft document calls for selecting a moderator who nominates an advisory committee that has input on how things are run at the very outset of forming a government, said Boucher. This is done to provide a check and balance on a board of selectmen’s prescribed ability to decide a variety of important things, he said.

“The bellwether is you got input from a lot of people. Are you getting that?” Kinch asked.

“Yes,” Boucher said.

The initial governing structure of Devens is listed in appendix 3 of the draft legislation.

It calls for electing a five-member board of selectmen and five-member school committee with staggered terms as well as a town moderator elected annually. All other town officers would be appointed by the selectmen unless another provision is made via bylaw or a vote of the town.

Legislative powers would rest in town meeting and executive powers with selectmen, who in the absence of controlling bylaws, assume the duties of water, road, sewer, veterans affairs commissions, library trustees and housing authority.

Unless changed, the draft calls for selectmen to appoint an administrator, town clerk, counsel, accountant, police chief, fire chief and the public works superintendent. Selectmen would also appoint three assessors and two assistants, election officers, a parks and recreation commission, regional planning council representative and three registrars of voters.

Selectmen may also appoint a six-member board of appeals, five-member board of health, conservation commission, seven-member planning board and three-member historical commission provided the positions have no permitting power if Devens remains subject to the unified permitting section of Chapter 498.

After final transition, if the town elects to continue a unified permitting process that will be consolidated into a five-member unified permitting board with three associate members.

The draft essentially sets up a “strong administrator” form of government in which the administrator manages town agencies, supervises town employees — except school workers — and can reorganize or discontinue departments all subject to selectmen approval. The administrator governs wages and classifications, is governed by a personnel bylaw when adopted, is responsible for purchasing supplies, materials and equipment, and awarding contracts to operate town agencies.

Subject to the approval of selectmen, the administrator would hire all town employees except school workers including a treasurer/tax collector, auditor, building commissioner, economic development director, tree warden, animal control officer and constables.

Subject to the selectmen’s approval, the draft calls for allowing the administrator to assume the powers, duties and responsibilities of any subordinate officer effective upon filing with the town clerk.

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