By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Finance Committee member Daniel Sherman says he will move to amend the Town Clerk’s budget by removing the $76,000 Town Clerk’s salary from the budget. The promise came last night as the FinCom reviewed its first round of 16 departmental budgets, including the Town Clerk’s.
Town Clerk Mary K. Galvin has been out of work since she collapsed in her first floor Town Hall office on April 8 and spent the next six days in Melrose-Wakefield Hospital. Doctors initially suspected a heart attack or a stroke but ultimately Galvin was diagnosed with emotional stress brought on by certain pressures she felt as she did her job as Town Clerk.
Galvin told the Item earlier this month that the final stressor was a “nasty” memo she received from Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio shortly before her collapse. That memo reportedly related to various grievances filed against Galvin by past and present employees in her office.
Galvin was re-elected to another three-year term last April 22, two weeks after her hospitalization. The Selectmen appointed Rose Morgan as temporary Town Clerk once it became clear that Galvin would be out for an extended period.
On Jan. 12, Sherman wrote a letter in the Item Forum calling for Galvin to either return to work or retire.
Galvin has told the Item that she would like to return to work but has been advised by her doctors that it would not be healthy to return “under the current circumstances.”
Sherman vowed that when the Finance Committee votes in April on whether to recommend favorable Town Meeting action on each budget, he will move to amend the Town Clerk’s budget by cutting the Town Clerk’s salary to zero.
“I have a real problem paying my tax bill and paying her to sit at home and watch TV,” Sherman said last night.
After Town Accountant Kevin Gill and Maio presented the $205,621 Town Clerk’s budget, FinCom Chairman Gerard Leeman asked if Galvin was out on disability, vacation or if “she just doesn’t show up for work.” Maio replied that the latter was the case.
Leeman asked if it was fair to say that the town was getting no value for the Town Clerk’s salary. Maio declined to comment.
In response to another member’s question, Gill said that the additional cost for covering Galvin’s absence was just over $18,000.
FinCom member Lori Wheeler asked if Town Counsel Thomas Mullen was recommending that the town continue to pay Galvin for the duration of her three-year term, given that she is an elected official.
Maio said that Mullen had advised paying Galvin for the current fiscal year (which ends June 30) as that budget was voted by Annual Town Meeting in 2014. After that, Maio said, it would depend on what Annual Town Meeting votes in May with respect to the Town Clerk’s budget.
Asked by Leeman if there was any local precedent for the current situation, both Maio and longtime FinCom member Philip McCarty said that they did not know of any.
McCarty said that he has long believed that the Town Clerk should be an appointed position rather than an elected one. He said that years ago he had surveyed contiguous towns and only Wakefield had an elected Town Clerk.
When asked what it would take to change the Town Clerk’s position from elected to appointed, Maio said that it would not require a change to the Town Charter but would require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting as well as approval of the state Attorney General. In response to another question, he said that any 10 citizens could petition for such a Town Meeting warrant article or it could come from a town official.
Sherman said that when the FinCom makes its budget recommendations for Annual Town Meeting he would “strongly recommend” cutting the Town Clerk’s $76,000 salary from the budget. He also said that he would suggest putting that money in the Reserve Fund in the event that Galvin returns to work or retires and is replaced.
Sherman argued that any such a scenario would qualify for a reserve fund transfer because it would be unforeseen.
“If she retires, we’ve got to replace her,” Sherman said, “and if she comes back we’ve got to pay her.”
Leeman said that zeroing out the Town Clerk’s salary line item and placing the money in the Reserve Fund would be “the way to stop the money going out the door for no service.”
After the meeting, Sherman stressed the reason that he will move to eliminate the Town Clerk’s salary.
“I am sick of paying someone to stay at home, not do their job and get paid for it,” Sherman said. “It’s as simple as that.”