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Townsend to weigh expanding selectmen to five members

From left, Townsend selectmen Cindy King, Carolyn Smart and Gordon Clark at their meeting Tuesday. nashoba valley voice/chris lisinki

By Chris Lisinski

TOWNSEND — The town might need to buy a larger table for its meeting room some time soon.

If Townsend voters approve the change, the Board of Selectmen will increase in size from three members to five members. The change was included as an article in the first draft of the spring Town Meeting warrant, which Interim Town Administrator James Kreidler unveiled during Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting.

Selectman Cindy King, who submitted the proposal to the draft Town Meeting warrant, said she hopes a five-member board would allow selectmen to work more efficiently without inadvertently violating the Open Meeting Law.

“It will make it easier to get business done,” she said. “It gives us the ability to get the job done more efficiently.”

Voters would need to approve the article by a two-thirds margin at the May 3 Town Meeting, and then if it passed there, it would appear on the following annual town election ballot in 2017. The change, then, could not take place for at least two years.

With a three-member board, no two selectmen are allowed to discuss business outside of a public meeting, but with five members, King said she or any other member could go to one another to get on the same page (but three could not convene at the same time).

“In the fall, a lot of complaints were filed for Open-Meeting Law violations,” she said. “Being a member of the board, sometimes you just want to talk about something with a colleague to say, ‘OK, why do you like something or why don’t you like something or why is this important?’ But with a three-member board, I can’t have that conversation outside of a meeting.”

She also said a larger board would help avoid issues caused by various conflicts of interest. For example, on a three-member board, if one member was absent, one had a personal connection to an issue and the third had no such problem, then only one elected official would be submitting a vote on that topic.

“Living in the community like Townsend, there’s always a potential that one of us is going to have a conflict of interest about something,” King said. “But with five, you thin that out and you can still get business done.”

Kreidler also presented his preliminary budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which is built upon a 1.55 percent increase over last year’s budget. The board will continue to discuss that along with other town departments, and they will meet again next Tuesday — even though they normally meet biweekly — to address budgetary matters and to prepare for Town Meeting.

Follow Chris Lisinski on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.

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