Published in the April 25, 2016 edition.

This is the last in a series leading up to the 2016 municipal election tomorrow, Tuesday, April 26.

WAKEFIELD — Kristen Henshaw and Betsy Sheeran are running for the vacant Town Clerk’s position in this year’s town election. The Item asked them three questions about the job they would hold.

1) Do you think the office of Town Clerk should remain an elected position going forward 

or do you think the Town Clerk should be appointed by the Board of Selectmen 

or the Town Administrator as many other towns do?

SHEERAN: In accordance with the Town Charter, this decision rests with Town Meeting attendees – neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Town Administrator has the authority to change the position from elected to appointed. The Town Charter is to be reviewed in years ending with “3” or “8,” i.e., 2018, 2023, etc. The members of the Town Charter review team would make any change(s) and then present the recommendation(s) to Town Meeting. I trust that the Town Charter review team would look at all aspects of this issue and make the proper recommendation to the Town Meeting attendees for their acceptance/rejection.

I would do my very best for the citizens of Wakefield, regardless of whether the position were elected or appointed.

HENSHAW: When early colonists came to America, one of the first offices established was that of clerk or recorder, now called City or Town Clerk. The importance of the office has never, in over three centuries, diminished, and it should always reflect the will of the citizens. It should never be an appointed position.

Since one of the responsibilities of the Town Clerk is to ensure the transparency of the municipality’s conduct of business, making the post an appointment of that same municipality’s administrative officer or board would seem to carry with it an inherent conflict.

Wakefield’s town charter grants considerable powers to a small group of people; choosing the Town Clerk should not be included in those powers.

The seven-member Board of Selectmen appoints the Town Administrator, Town Counsel, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Council on Aging, Recreation Commission, town meeting workers, all poll workers and wardens and other multiple-member boards.

The Town Administrator, with approval of the Board, appoints the Police and Fire Chiefs, and civil service positions within those departments; Director of the Department of Public Works, the building inspector, plumbing inspector, wiring inspector, parking clerk, Council on Aging Director, Recreation Director and staff of the Board of Selectmen.

In addition, the Town Administrator, with the approval of the department heads, can appoint the staff members in virtually all departments, from the Town Accountant’s staff to the staff of the Town Clerk’s office, to the staff of the Department of Public Works.

Wakefield’s Town Clerk should be chosen by the citizens, not a group of eight people. The Town Clerk should answer to the voters, not a board which may have its own interests or an individual who may have his/her own agenda.

The voters should have a strong voice, the only voice, in choosing a Town Clerk. If a Town Clerk is not doing his/her job, voters can turn them out; it is easier to turn them out of office if they are elected, not appointed.

If the voters can be trusted to elect a Board of Selectmen, they can certainly be trusted to elect a Town Clerk.

2) What do you see as the most important function of the Town Clerk and why?

HENSHAW: To serve the townspeople as diligently as possible in all the duties and responsibilities of the town clerk as enumerated in the town charter; to treat each and every citizen of Wakefield fairly and courteously, no matter their status or circumstance.

SHEERAN: The main function of the Town Clerk’s office is two-pronged. The office of the Town Clerk is the repository for all documents – voting results, records, minutes of meetings, etc. – the keeping of these records is of extreme importance. Many of these documents must be recorded with the Secretary of State’s office and the State Attorney General’s office in a timely manner. One aspect of this reporting process is that Town Meeting votes (zoning) must be certified and reported to the Attorney General’s office upon the dissolution of Town Meeting. The Town Clerk’s office serves the public and this, along with up-to-the-minute record keeping, is an important role for the Town Clerk and the staff. The above-mentioned function leads to the election process. The Town Clerk’s office should continue to provide information to the electorate covering all aspects of voting information. This information should be available in the Town Clerk’s office, on the website, in the printed medium as well as on social media sites and WCAT. The presentation of this information would include time-sensitive dates, such as the date of the election(s), the polling site(s), the last date for voters’ registration, the last date to change political party affiliation/designation, protocol for absentee voting, procedure for early voting, etc. Following this procedure would lead back to the reporting of such information to the appropriate authorities.

3) Would you favor doing away with neighborhood polling places 

and having just one central polling place for elections?

SHEERAN: I would certainly support one central polling place. I would present my case to the Board of Selectmen, who make the final decision, and provide that body with my rationale for the change. With the inception of “early voting,” I believe that a large number of voters will take advantage of this opportunity. Having a central location would do away with any misunderstanding or confusion, i.e. voters who are not sure of their polling location, people who have relocated within the town and aren’t sure if they return to their original polling place, etc. Having a “command center” at the central location would provide an immediate answer and solution to any problems that may arise. Naturally, the central polling place would be accessible according to ADA specifications and parking would be a major consideration. Another important reason for my preference of having one central polling place is that the Town would save money!

HENSHAW: Absolutely not. Under no circumstances would I favor the adoption of a single polling place for our elections. The citizens of Wakefield deserve to have their precincts within close proximity to their homes. While there may be a cost savings to be realized by having a central polling place, it would discourage the very voters who have shown typically and historically that they are the most dedicated participants in our democracy: the older voters. Furthermore, I would never change the ‘neighborhood feel’ of election day. Ask anyone who has ever worked in one of our seven precincts about the atmosphere in a polling place on the day of an election: neighbors greet neighbors, new babies are admired, news is shared and often hugs. Voting in a central location would change that and that is not a change anyone who values community would wish.