NORTH READING —The Select Board unanimously voted to establish the position of Public Services Director at its meeting Monday night, effective Feb. 14, 2022.

By taking this vote, the board was exercising its right under the Town Charter to organize the administrative functions of town government under Chapter 4, Town Administrative Organization, which defines the organizational framework of the town into four divisions: a division of finance, a division of public works, a division of public safety and a division of public service.

Prior to this vote, three out of four of these respective divisions have had a director to oversee them; only public services did not.

At the board’s strategic planning meeting in November, Select Board Chairwoman Kate Manupelli said establishing this position was “part of a recommendation that Mr. Wallner made. We have this position in our charter and this position would be the director of all of our human services division. It’s a charter position and the board was 100 percent on board with that suggestion.”

Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto explained that the prior discussion “reflects the fact that we have a commitment to a human services program known as the Age-Friendly Communities through AARP and we’re looking to advance that. But also that we knew we would be experiencing turnover in the Department of Elder Services with the retirement of the director, Mary Prenney.”

“Along with the board’s long-standing desire to add some capacity at the administration/management level, there have been many discussions with ways that could happen, including (adding an) Assistant Town Administrator position. We took a step forward a couple of years ago with the creation of the Public Safety Director position. This is a very similar type position. Under the Town Charter it is a position within a division of the town government, the town’s operations being divided into four different categories, separately held by charter and by state law,” Gilleberto stated. School Department positions are not included in this discussion, he said.

“There is the division of finance, which is headed by the Finance Director; the division of public works, which is head by the Public Works Director; the division of public safety, headed by the Public Safety Director; and then there is a final division — general government services— that is identified under the town’s charter. The oversight of this division within the departments within this division lies with the town administrator ‘unless otherwise assigned by the Select Board,’” Gilleberto explained.

“This general government services division includes the town clerk, the library, recreation, veterans’ services and ‘any appropriate additional public service as may be assigned by the charter or through bylaw with oversight vested in the director or supervising board of the division of public services. In the absence of a director or a board, the oversight in the town administrator, so it is currently under my purview,” the T.A. stated.

“So the board’s discussion at the suggestion of Mr. Wallner was to look to fill this position and ultimately, either by bylaw or charter change, clarify that a number of other divisions ought to be within this one, which is elder services. I put this out because the board’s discussion was such that we were looking to hold off on hiring an Elder Services Director or similar type position so that we could have this discussion and come to a conclusion regarding the procedure moving forward,” Gilleberto told the members.

The T.A. added he has had numerous conversations that he has had with Elder Services Administrator Assistant Sherri Greer and Elder Services Outreach Coordinator Susan Tilton and “they are working together carrying things forward at the Senior Center, which is open and has had in-person programming, although depending on scheduling some of it has had to be canceled in recent weeks.”

“I think the reason why it is compelling is because our demographics are changing in town. We’re experiencing major demographic shifts and this is an opportunity to bring all of these individual departments together to work toward a common goal,” commented Select Board member Rich Wallner.

“This director will help free Michael up from all the many thousands of responsibilities he has every day,” Wallner continued, adding, “It will also allow this group to work together for a better whole for everybody. I think it will provide the synergy we need to be effective going forward and for the community that’s a huge impact. The good news is it was already defined. We are just now fulfilling that role.”

The board then proceeded to take its unanimous vote.

Next steps

Gilleberto told the board that they will finalize a job description for this vacant position. “At the same time we will be advertising the vacant grant coordinator position as well that had been funded in a previous fiscal year and then withdrawn. It is also very timely as many communities are looking to hire this position as well. Our advantage is we’ve committed to funding it rather than relying on state or federal funding,” he said.