By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — The trio of citizens’ petitions that would alter the way the town governs itself will not be supported by a majority of the Board of Selectmen at next Monday’s fall Town Meeting.
Grouped together as Articles 5, 6 and 7 on the October Town Meeting warrant, they were drafted by local attorney Michael Walsh. Walsh told the board he had gathered just over 100 signatures of registered Lynnfield voters in 36 hours for the three petitions but submitted fewer for certification by the Town Clerk since it was determined that only 10 would be needed to get each article onto the warrant.
If passed, Article 5 would petition the Legislature to allow the town to abolish the Town Administrator form of government and revert back to the Executive Assistant form of government in use prior to 1993. Article 6 would establish a residency requirement for newly hired department heads within 30 days of date of hire. Article 7 would reinstate the Consolidated Personnel Board as it existed prior to 1983.
Articles 5 and 7 were not supported by two out of the three board members. Selectmen Chairman Dave Nelson and Selectman Phil Crawford voted against recommending passage of these articles at Town Meeting while Selectman Tom Terranova was in favor of recommending both.
By a 3-0 vote, the board voted not to support the residency requirement that Article 6 would impose for the positions of town administrator, town clerk, treasurer, tax collector, building inspector, fire chief, superintendent of schools, police chief and DPW director.
Nelson asked Town Administrator Bill Gustus how much control the executive assistant had over the town budget and whether that model put more control in the hands of the Board of Selectmen. He noted that Joe Maney began his career as the town’s executive assistant but his role was adapted to town administrator.
Gustus said when Maney was made the first Town Administrator after those special acts were passed in 1993, “he was also assigned the duties of the Director of Finance and Administration.”
“Why would we go backwards? I don’t understand that. It takes power away from the town administrator. Right now, you have more oversight of the budget,” Nelson said. He added it was not a good idea to have more day-to- day control in the hands of the selectmen. “You need a consistency with a town administrator. You want to keep out personal agendas and issues that would just cause a lot of mayhem,” he said.
Crawford concurred that the format adopted over 20 years ago has done very well for the town and strongly recommends against passage of Article 5.
“The town of Lynnfield has enjoyed two very fine town administrators since 1993. Joe Maney was hired 1991 and in 1993 he became town administrator and chief procurement officer, and in 2002 our current town administrator, Bill Gustus, was hired,” Crawford said, “It doesn’t make any sense to go backwards.”
Crawford believes the proposed article “has no place” on the town’s warrant but “we had to let it on” because it was submitted by petition. “It is insulting to the town, it’s insulting to our town administrator. If it had a requirement of a 100 signatures you would have never gotten it,” he said to Walsh.
Gustus is set to retire in January and the search firm hired by the board to find the next town administrator has told them that they will have a very nice pool of candidates from which to choose his successor, Crawford said.
“These people are all working in towns where they do a very similar job to what Mr. Gustus is doing. We expect that we will hire somebody and keep the town running like it is. It is one of the best run towns in the North Shore. We’ve always been in the black. We’ve been proactive. We have no reason to change the type of town government we have here and I don’t believe that the townspeople will be benefited at all by doing this,” Crawford said.
Nelson pointed to Standard and Poor’s recent increased bond rating of the town from AA to AA+ as further proof that the town is well run “with available reserves and levels improving over the past three fiscal years.”
Nelson cited S&P’s assessment of the town’s management conditions that enable the town to be “financially run very well.”
“Any other from of government, such as the passage of this article, will only serve to turn Lynnfield backward,” Nelson said. “It would weaken our fiscal strength, it would weaken our public school district, it would weaken the morale of our employees, it would erode town infrastructure and bring undetermined personal agendas and political gains to those who would be in control over more than what our town administrator does right now. This will prove to be severely detrimental to the town over several years, place us on a path of no return, and would require major monetary concessions to recover, if at all.”
Terranova said he had a different opinion, noting that Walsh and his supporters were able to get just over 100 people to sign his petitions “so I think that there is a calling for this by the people,” he said. “When people take the time and effort to bring forward an issue, it should be heard fairly by all of us… Whether it’s approved or not, that’s for the town to decide, not for me to decide. But I do believe that you should be heard,” Terranova said.
Nelson told Walsh the issue is not whether to allow his petition to be discussed on Town Meeting floor because as a petition with certified signatures, it must be allowed. “What I’m talking about is the Board of Selectmen recommending or not recommending the article,” Nelson said, adding, “To have three selectmen with different opinions try to run this town with an executive assistant would cause total mayhem, so I’m not for this.”
Terranova said his management style is different from the other selectmen. “I think we should be more hands-on,” he said, adding he believes the current and prior town administrators should not view this petition as a “negative statement” about their performance. “I think what they’ve done is excellent for the town. However, I am a hands-on person.”
“Corporate America is driven by a Board of Directors and they have a hierarchy of executives that work under their control,” Terranova said. He likened the selectmen to that board of directors which gets voted in and out of office by the shareholders or voters. “Our opinion is based upon the taxpayers who contact us, make recommendations to us, vote us in and vote us out of office. So I think if you do a good job, they vote for us; if we do a bad job, they don’t vote for us…We’re entrusted to run the town and we should bear that responsibility much like the Board of Directors,” he said.
By a 3-0 vote, the selectmen will not be recommending passage of a residency requirement proposed under Article 6. Nelson and Crawford both pointed to Danvers as an example where such a requirement backfired as Danvers had difficulty attracting candidates for town manager due to its residency requirement.
Crawford said only one of the town’s current department heads lives in town and the goal should be to “find the best person for the job.” There is a requirement that public safety officials live close enough to town to enable them to return quickly if there is an emergency, Crawford said. He added that he discussed this warrant article with the Secretary of State’s office and as written it may not “pass muster” due to conflicts with state statutes. “There are a lot of holes in this,” Crawford told Walsh.
Terranova said that although he likes the “buy in” concept of “key management to have a vested interest in their town,” he recognizes that it would be difficult to impose. “The threshold financially for someone to buy into this town is high,” Terranova said, noting that a starter home costs about $400,000, which is higher than nearby towns. “Given what we want to pay (in salaries) to keep our values up and keep our taxes under control,” Terranova said he could not blame someone for choosing to live out of town and within his “own personal budget.”
By a 2-1 vote, the selectmen were not in favor of recommending passage of Article 7 to reinstate the 1983 version of the Consolidated Personnel Board that has since been replaced by a newer bylaw. Nelson and Crawford opposed recommending it and Terranova was in favor of it.
Gustus told the board that Article 7 does not address some of the state and federal legal changes that have taken place since 1983, most notable would be the Family Medical Leave Act. “It is in our current bylaw and it didn’t even exist in 1983,” Gustus said.
“In the current bylaw there is language that excludes employees covered by collective bargaining. This bylaw does not do that. As a result it creates conflict between the bylaw and collective bargaining agreements that have been negotiated by the town,” Gustus said.
Crawford stated that he also reviewed this proposed bylaw change with the Secretary of State’s office to find out what has changed since 1983, and was told that it is so old it doesn’t comply with current laws.
Crawford noted that the bylaw does not address issues such as changes in privacy laws and work environment laws like sexual harassment and nondiscrimination protections against those with disabilities in addition to the collective bargaining and grievance procedures that have been updated over the years.
He said there is no place in town for a bylaw that replaces modern practices with “archaic” and “illegal” ones. “My thought is there is a small group of individuals with a personal agenda trying to get this through. There is no other reason to do this. Why would we step back 30 years? It doesn’t make any sense,” Crawford said.