Proposed change to Pownal town clerk's post sparks discussion

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POWNAL — A proposal to make the town clerk's position an appointed one drew considerable discussion during the annual town meeting.

About 200 residents attended the session at the elementary school to go over a 28-article town warrant for fiscal year 2019, which begins on July 1.

Rose-Marie Pelletier spoke for several minutes on the clerk article, tracing financial problems that have developed over a number of years while the longtime Clerk Karen Burrington was first in chronic ill-health and since late 2016 injured and unable to come to the office.

Pelletier praised acting Clerk Julie Weber, who is running for a three-year term this year to replace the retiring clerk, but with the knowledge that the post could become an appointed one within 45 days should the ballot article pass.

Voters should understand that the article "has nothing to do with the person," Pelletier said, saying she hopes the Select Board will hire Weber for the appointed position of clerk.

But she added that the current system, with an independent clerk offers the town "very little accountability" and should be changed. While the Select Board meets in public and the town budget is audited, the finances for the elected clerk's office are handled by the clerk alone and not subject to an independent audit.

Supporters of an appointed clerk have cited more than $20,000 in overdue license fee payments to the state that had built up over a decade before being addressed last year. While that amount has been since been paid up with funds from the clerk's office income, Select Board Chairman Nelson Brownell and others called for bringing the clerk's finances within the town budget, which would mean they are audited each year.

Currently, the office is solely under the elected clerk's control, with pay coming from a percentage of the license fee income and from a stipend from the town.

Opponents have said they want the clerk to remain independent as an elected official and not an employee hired by the board.

Select Board candidate Bob Jarvis said during the town meeting that he believes "there are other ways to hold a clerk accountable, other than to make them appointed," such as to require an audit.

He said he sees the board hiring the clerk "a conflict of interest, in my opinion."

If the clerk is hired by the board, a salary and benefits would be paid and the fees collected for marriage, dog and other clerk income would become part of the regular town budget.


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