HANSON – The Select Board discussed the workload in the Selectmen’s office – and whether there is, or has been adequate staffing to keep up with it – during the Tuesday, June 28 meeting.
The topic came up as the board was voting to recognize with regret the resignation of Administrative Assistant Lucia Silveira. She is the second assistant to resign over the workload. Administrative Assistant Greet Getzen resigned following the Oct. 4, 2021 special Town Meeting, during which disparaging remarks about her performance in the job during a discussion about a request for $9,179 to hire a recording secretary to help with the backlog if meeting minutes. The separation process between Getzen and the board was finalized on Nov. 2 2021. Silveria was hired in Jan. 10 2022.
The board is looking to a Town Meeting warrant article and need to discuss affordability and sustainability with Town Accountant Todd Hassett, further documentation and a task breakdown over who would do what in the Select Board office.
“One of the things we’ve been discussing with Lucia and Town Adminstrator Lisa Green is, quite honestly … with the prior town administrator and executive assistant … is the volume of work that the office does is leading to burnout – rapid burnout,” said Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “I got thinking about why is that happening.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett questioned whether too much is expected of too-small a staff, whether they are not paid enough, a matter of prioritizing – or a bit of all those things.
“I did ask Ms. Green to take a look at the towns around us and see how they are staffing this office and what are the jobs that are being required of this office in this current time that weren’t necessarily required, say, five or 10 years ago,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I want to be clear that Lisa is not complaining. That’s not why it’s on the agenda. This was my observation, saying, ‘Holy [self-censored]. This is a lot of work.’”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the Select Board has a lot to do and needs the staff to get it done, especially when they meet every week.
“It’s probably two days’ worth of work [preparing] for every meeting that we have,” she said. Volunteers, however, such as seniors volunteering for tax abatement, can’t do quite a bit of the work – which is privileged and confidential.
Green reported that of the towns close to Hanson – all of which are close to the same population – all have three staff members in the Select Board office. Abington has a town manager and two administrative assistants, one of which concentrates on media coordination and other activities; Rockland has a town administrator, and assistant town administrator and an executive assistant; Pembroke has a town manager, an assistant town manager and an executive assistant; Easton has a town administrator, and assistant town administrator, a human resources coordinator and an executive assistant; Halifax has a town administrator, a select board assistant and a select board secretary and Plympton – with a population of 3,000 – is the only nearby town with only two staffing the Select Board office: an administrator and an administrative assistant; and East Bridgewater has a town administrator, an assistant to the town administrator and a principal clerk,
“We’re the only town around, other than Plympton … that has only two people in the Select Board office,” Green said. “It’s not shifting papers around. Our office requires reading, learning, writing, creating documents.”
At the last Select Board meeting, the list of 110 annual appointments triggered the need for the office to generate 87 letters the next day so those folks could come in and get sworn in, she said.
“We are bombarded with records requests,” Green added, much of it requires research, redacting where required and compiling information. “We answer the phones, we answer complaints – open meeting law complaints. Private roads have been a big issue lately. For two people trying to do all this work – it is exrtemely overwhelming.”
Minutes requests are the most time-consuming.
“Minutes don’t take minutes,” she said. “It takes hours to generate meeting minutes.”
Two or three-hour Select Board meetings can mean six to eight hours to generate accurate and can include executive session information, all done while people drop in for other business.
“That’s in addition to preparing the Annual Town Report … to the two Town Meetings which, as you can see … half of the year is spent talking and planning for Town Meeting,” FitzGerald-Kemmett. “And then, I think most importantly, all the personnel issues.”
The board has also been urging Green to obtain grant money and town-owned properties sold and onto the rolls.
“The previous board spent a lot of time advocating for not just another administrative assistant and/or assistant town administrator, but we were also talking about an HR person that we can bring in to take some of that burden off of [Green] as well,” said Select Board member Joe Weeks. “We should continue on with that.”
But the need to continually “put out fires” gets in the way.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for us to sit back and take it seriously,” he said. “No municipal government run off of a revolving door of staff.”
Select Board member Jim Hickey expressed concern about how the town would be able to afford the salary of another staff member.
“I just feel sorry that we’re losing someone that I barely know, but I know she’s been effective and there is nobody in the wings to come and take her place,” said Select Board member Ann Rein. “It doesn’t sound like that is a good plan in the long run.”
Rein said the best plan would have been to find help before Silveira reached the point “where you needed to walk.”
Select Board member Ed Heal said that every time he goes into the office, “both these two are working as three people.”
The board also discussed the disclosure of potential conflict of interest from Conservation Committee Chairman Phil Clemens. The routine form in which town officials outline upcoming issues before their board or committee that could potentially cause a conflict of interest for them.
“Historically, it was not always the practice of this board to receive disclosures and to discuss them in an open meeting, which to me always seemed contrary to the very principal of disclosing things – particularly if you are an appointing authority,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Clemens indicated he had no comments to make other than his wish to understand the process, as he was uncertain if his was a typical situation.
“But, as an abutter to a potential project we can see coming, I just thought I’d try to get out ahead of it,” he said. Clemens said his main question was whether he should leave the room when Conservation discusses the project, should it come up in the future.
“We can’t opine on what you should be doing,” FitzGerald-Kemmet said. She advised Clemens that he could call the attorney of the day at the state Ethics Commission with specific questions. “The lens that we’re looking through, primarily, is, ‘Is there something you’ve disclosed here that would give us pause [concerning] you being appointed to a position [by] this board.”
Clemens said that whenever a project of any significant size is proposed to a town board, abutters are notified, in this specific situation the abutters potenitally affected by an upcoming project is the First Congregational Church, where he is a moderator at the church’s business meeting as well as a member of the congregation.
“Who knows what the discussions might lead to?” he said. “I would be concerned about appearances as things get further down the road.”
He indicated he would consult the Ethics Commission.
“You’re on the right track and disclosing … and being aware,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “That’s like half the battle.”
She asked that Clemens update the board on what the Ethics Commission’s ruling is.
In other business, the board heard a presentation from Anne Donner about the town’s strategic, for which Town Meeting voted funding. Donner recently worked with the town of Whitman on their strategic plan.
“As unbelievable as it might seem, the town of Hanson has actually never had a strategic plan, which would be a vision … that is put together by collecting the thoughts of various department heads and stakeholders and gives us a point in time [as to] what we think the priorities for the town should be,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “We’re not flipping and flopping on our objectives in terms of where our money’s going to be spent, where our resources are going to be spent. We have a vision.”
While priorities may change, this would provide a starting point, she indicated.
Donner, a management consultant since 2004, has worked in both the public and private as well as nonprofit sectors, and described a strategic plan as an organzational management activity to focus energy and resources, set priorities, strengthen operations of an organization and provide agreement around the intended outcomes.
She has already begun gathering data and interviewing department heads and Select Board members to learn their perspectives on what the town’s priorities should be. A citizens’ survey will be conducted in August. A workshop with stakes is being planned for after Labor Day.