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ELECTED — OR APPOINTED? Ayer considers switch to town manager, appointed town clerk


AYER — Changes will be coming for the municipal government if voters says yes and the state legislature approves.

One article on the Oct. 23 Special Town Meeting warrant calls for a town manager rather than a town administrator.

Three other articles would change town clerk, treasurer-collector and tree warden from elected to appointed positions.

The day-to-day operations of the town are becoming increasingly technical, said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand during an informational presentation on Oct. 10. Around two dozen voters attended.

The proposed changes would leave policy making as the responsibility of elected boards and voters, he said. Paid professionals would do the work.

The proposed town manager position entail more personnel responsibilities including the ability to hire and fire employees below the level of department heads with consultation of the relative head. Currently, the town administrator can only made recommendations to the Board of Selectmen, which has left people out on paid administrative leave until a meeting can be held.

One department will not fall under the manager’s authority, Pontbriand said. As a strong chief, the fire chief makes personnel decisions for that department.

The Board of Selectmen and search committees would be involved in actions involving department heads.

Some town managers have even more authority and are not required to involve the selectmen in their decisions, he said.

The town manager would also be able to sign payroll warrants and name someone to cover the job responsibilities in the case of an absence of ten days or less.

Working within the budget established by Town Meeting, the town manager will also be able to fix compensation in consultation with the selectmen and Finance Committee. The Personnel Board would be dissolved.

The job responsibilities of the town clerk and treasurer/collector will not see much change. Between 85 and 90 percent of the town clerk’s job is regulated by Mass. General Law, said Susan Copeland, who is elected to all three part-time positions.

The smooth operation of the offices could be affected under the current system. “It could happen that different people could be elected,” she said.

If the changes are approved, she plans to remain as town clerk in a full-time position. The treasurer/collector position would be vacated.

The changes to the town clerk, treasurer-collector and administrator’s positions were all recommended by state Division of Local Services and the Department of Revenue and the town’s draft master plan. Additionally, the 2010 Government Study Committee recommended the changes for the positions currently held by Copeland.

The Board of Selectmen added the article changing the tree warden position from elected to appointed, Pontbriand said. The warden receives a stipend and expenses.

If any of the four articles pass, they will be sent to the state legislature which could take between three and 18 months to act on them, he said.

Elected officials would remain in the position until the end of their elected term and the administrator would remain as manager for the length of the contract. The selectmen would then make appointments for the positions.

After the meeting Pontbriand reviewed other articles on the Town Meeting Warrant.

Two articles limit the number of recreational marijuana retailers to one. If the general bylaw is approved, Town Meeting will then vote on a related zoning bylaw change which requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

If the zoning bylaw is approved, it must be voted on in a special election to be held by Dec. 31. Selectmen plan to meet if needed immediately after Town Meeting to set a date.

Two articles relate to establishing a conservation fund with $500,000 from the Community Preservation Open Space Fund. The money would be used to conservation and open space land.

A developer is also requesting $30,000 from the Community Preservation Historic Fund to renovate the former fire station cupola and roof.

Two articles pertain to building the new Department of Public Works Operations Center. One transfers unexpended funds to the project. The other would transfer borrowing authorization.

The bid came in at $1.1 million instead of the authorized $950,000, Pontbriand said. Because it was a modular building procurement, the contract cannot be negotiated until it is authorized. He expected the final total would be less than the low bid.

Pontbriand described other articles as housekeeping. One regards permitted use of bond and note premiums and another allows the town to transfer funds from stabilization to pay for retirement contributions for its employees who are actively serving in the military.

Both are based on state law.

Because the cultural council sets the number of members at the Cultural Council at nine. The council has difficulty reaching a quorum, Pontbriand said.

The Special Town Meeting will be held at the Ayer Shirley Regional High School Auditorium at 141 Washington St., Ayer, on Monday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 13 is the last day to register to vote.

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.