AYER — The final report of the Town Government Study Committee was submitted to selectmen last fall. They accepted the report and asked the committee to start to formulate a town charter to outline and improve upon the town’s form of government.
But before that process can proceed, the board must move on the group’s recommendations to possibly reduce the governmental structure to writing for a town vote.
The committee worked arduously for a year. TSCG Chairman and former Ayer Selectman Murray Clark blasted selectmen in January for not moving forward to deliberate or implement the committee’s recommendations.
Some of the changes are within selectmen’s power, like shifting certain workloads from selectmen to the town administrator. But several fundamental structural changes of town government would require a ballot vote and a vote at Annual Town Meeting.
Town elections are Monday, April 23, while annual Town Meeting is Monday, May 10.
TGSC recommended the creation of a clearly delineated procurement policy. Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said he’s been working with Town Accountant Lisa Gabree and DPW Superintendent Dan Nason to draft such guidelines. Pontbriand estimated the draft policy would be delivered to selectmen on or before March 16.
Pontbriand asked the “board’s pleasure” regarding steps forward.
On financial recommendations, Pontbriand said a representative of the Department of Revenue’s Department of Local Services was available to speak to the board.
Selectmen will hold a special meeting Feb. 28 to hash through the TGSC report.
One recommendation was the creation of an umbrella Finance Department, under the supervision of an appointed finance director. Pending voter approval, two separate elected posts would be converted into an appointed, or hired, professional post serving under the finance director.
The TGSC recommended the treasurer be appointed and also recommended the elected tax-collector post be converted to an all-encompassing town-collector post.
Selectmen Chairman Gary Luca, who has championed the creation and work of the TGSC, said due to the need for a dual ballot and Town Meeting vote, “you really couldn’t set another ballot question before next April because it has to be an annual town election. If there’s a special election, it has to be 60 days before a Town Meeting.”
Luca urged immediate action.
Selectman Frank Maxant repeated his desire that any changes to the form of government come organically from the voters and not at the direction of the selectmen or the selectmen-appointed TGSC.
“Leave it up to the residents” in the form of a citizens petition to put recommendations on the Town Meeting warrant, Maxant suggested. Maxant said the population has long had access to the recommendations.
Selectman Jim Fay suggested that when he motioned to accept the report from the TGSC, “my intent was to implement all of those recommendations to the extent that we could.” Fay said he’s been awaiting a DLS visit to advise selectmen on how to move the ball forward.
“That was me,” said Luca.
“A single page memo would do it,” said Fay. “To do this, you do that. Let’s have a single issue meeting and get this done. For the life of me, I thought it was done five meetings ago.”
Selectman Carolyn McCreary agreed. “I thought we’d agreed to move forward. It was a matter of implementation.”
Conley reminded the board that Clark has expressed the “committee’s disappointment” two meetings earlier. “We, the TGSC, can’t move on a charter until the things are done.”
“We’ve waited too long,” said Conley. “I just wanted to say that. We can put that on our little to-do list to make sure we follow it along.”
Another matter that requires a citizen vote is any adoption of a charter. Voters have a say as to whether to modify the town bylaws to permit the town moderator, instead of selectmen, to appoint the five members of the Finance Committee.
Another TGSC recommendation was to return to the days of a three-member Ayer Board of Selectmen instead of the present five-member board.
The selectmen will take the topic up again Feb. 28.
TGSC member Tom Horgan said: “I hope you guys make a decision for a change. You’ve had it for four months. Get it on the warrant.”