Many important decisions will be made by the voters of this town when the fall Town Meeting convenes on Monday, Oct. 20 and we strongly encourage the full participation of the town’s electorate in this venerable democratic institution.
Chief among the 18 articles on the warrant are three citizens’ petitions authored by local attorney Michael Walsh that seek significant changes to the Town Charter.
If passed, Article 5 would abolish the Town Administrator form of government, returning the town to the Executive Assistant form of government that was in place prior to 1993.
Article 6 would establish a residency requirement for the town’s top nine department heads within one month of date of hire.
Article 7 would reinstate the five-member Consolidated Personnel Board as it existed in 1983 to oversee everything from creating job descriptions to designing compensation packages and handling grievance procedures.
We believe passage of these three articles would be a step backward for this vibrant community and strongly encourage a “no” vote on all three.
These three articles are being advocated by a group of citizens who have often vocalized their dissatisfaction with what they perceive to be a lack of transparency in the governance of their town, and we understand that frustration in this regard, at times, with the current Board of Selectmen and administration. We fully support their right to petition and prod the town’s elected and appointed officials to be transparent in its decision-making process and to ensure that documents supporting those decisions are accessible to public scrutiny in a timely fashion.
However, we also find it odd that this same group of advocates slipped these three citizens’ petitions into the public domain just a few minutes prior to the close of business Sept. 29, the last day the signatures on the petitions could be certified by the Town Clerk. The only public debate on the merits of these three proposals took place at last Thursday’s selectmen’s meeting with only three people in the audience, and the first opportunity the majority of the public will hear about them will be on the floor of Town Meeting next Monday night.
Such major changes to the town’s form of governance cannot be thoughtfully vetted in this compressed timeframe. This leaves the impression that the advocates are seeking to ram these changes through the electorate rather than encourage insightful and thoughtful debate on issues that will affect the town for years to come.
We oppose abolishing the Town Administrator’s position under Article 5. Much like a successful corporation needs a talented CEO, this town needs a professional, full-time manager to oversee a nearly $50 million annual budget and the myriad of responsibilities that this entails. The town has a contract in place with a search firm to hire the replacement for the current Town Administrator upon his retirement in early January. The fact that over 30 applicants responded to the advertisement for this position speaks volumes about the desirability of Lynnfield to potential candidates. To throw a monkey wrench into this process at this stage sends the wrong message to qualified candidates that Lynnfield may not be so desirable after all. It would have a destabilizing effect on the town, necessitating either hiring an interim T.A. or convincing the current T.A. to postpone his retirement plans.
We oppose the residency requirement for department heads proposed under Article 6 as being unrealistic. The primary focus of hiring personnel for these important positions should be their qualifications to do the job well. Expecting candidates for T.A., town clerk, treasurer, tax collector, building inspector, fire chief, superintendent of schools, police chief and DPW director to uproot their families and move to Lynnfield within 30 days of being hired would be virtually impossible to accomplish. No one can put their home on the market, buy a new home in this town, and close on both within 30 days’ time. And Lynnfield isn’t exactly flush with rental properties, even with the addition of ArborPoint. It would have a chilling effect on the applicant pool.
Our opposition to reinstituting the Consolidated Personnel Board as it existed in 1983 under Article 7 stems from the fact that a lot has transpired in the world of employment in the last 31 years. This 14-page document represents a significant amount of micromanagement and power given to a five-member appointed volunteer board. It would undercut the collective bargaining process and hard-fought negotiations worked out in good faith by the town’s unions and administration and bring a measure of job insecurity to the town’s dedicated workforce.
Vote no on Articles 5, 6 and 7. Let’s not take a step backward in time. This is not Mayberry.