SHIRLEY — Following up on an issue tabled at the last session amid some controversy, selectmen on Monday night appointed the seven-member Treasurer/Collector Search Committee that Town Administrator Patrice Garvin presented at the previous meeting.
Challenged by the current collector, Holly Haase, about the apparent rush to create and fill the dual position by the town election in May, when Haase’s term expires, without defining the job or seeking Town Meeting approval, Garvin stated at the time that the jobs would be combined in any case and that she aimed to hire someone by May 4.
Selectmen, however, decided to hold off on appointing the search committee.
Garvin has since done more homework, Chairman Robert Prescott said this week, analyzing the work involved in the two jobs and gathering comparative data from other communities.
Tracing the timeline, he said the move to combine the two positions began when Town Meeting in 2014 approved changing the tax collector from an elected to an appointed position. A part time treasurer, Christine Collins, was appointed to serve until the next election, he said, when the two offices could be merged.
But Haase argued that the preliminary work would not be done in time to hire for the new job in May.
“So far you have a job description,” she said, adding that, according to the town’s policies and procedures, it must then be presented to the Personnel Board for placement on the wage and salary grid.
Another glaring gap, in Haase’s view, is that Garvin had not spoken to her or to the interim treasurer to pin down an accurate picture of the jobs they do.
Haase also noted that Garvin is proposing to make the change during a peak period for both offices.
“These are not plug-and-play jobs,” she said. “This should be the voters’ decision.”
Town counsel acknowledged that a Town Meeting vote would be one way to do it, but not the only way, adding that special legislation could be filed, or someone could be hired to fill a combined position, though there are conflict-of-interest. For example, if one full-time employee did both jobs, the current setup would not be legal, he said.
None of that was of concern Monday, however, as all selectmen were asked to do was establish a search committee, though he said the task may take longer than three months.
“We have a concern if that’s the case,” with no elected collector in office after the May election, Selectman David Swain said.
The current collector could continue in a “hold-over” capacity, counsel said, but state law would not allow the same person to be a full-time collector and a part-time treasurer.
Haase concluded that the losses and gains of making the proposed change should be weighed, as she had stated previously in an email to the board and Garvin.
But Garvin said the town must act now.
“We know there will be two vacancies on May 4, and we need to be proactive,” she said.
“I disagree. We’re more reactive,” Haase responded, adding that with three months until the election, there should be more discussion and study.
“Sit down with the people who know these jobs inside out,” she said. “That’s my recommendation.”
Prescott pointed out that a Government Study Committee report and a Department of Revenue audit had both recommended creating the combined treasurer/collector position.
“The rub is not whether to do so but how to make it work,” Haase countered. “A search committee can’t do that.”
Resident Emile Faucher sided with Haase, also objecting to the restructuring of town government under Garvin’s management and the selectmen’s direction.
“I’m so insulted and bewildered by the inefficiency and lack of respect,” Faucher said. “We pay town counsel and you,” she added, referring to Garvin.
“I suggest you come see what I do,” Garvin retorted.
But Faucher persisted. “People who’ve been here for decades should be those you consult for information,” she said.
Garvin restated her proposal to seat the committee, consisting of representatives from the Sewer Commission, Finance and school Committees, the police chief and a selectman, as well as herself in an advisory capacity.
Selectmen voted unanimously to do so, with Swain saying, “I think they can do the work” necessary to ensure the treasurer vacancy is filled.”
After the vote, Selectman Kendra Dumont defended Garvin.
“Patrice has worked so hard for this town, and she doesn’t get the credit she deserves,” she said, adding that the administrator “takes the heat” when the board must make tough decisions.