HANSON — Selectmen have unanimously approved the drafting of a by-law proposal for consideration at the October special Town Meeting which would restrict selectmen from also working as paid town employees answerable to the board.
Interim Town Administrator Richard LaCamera was also officially hired, effective Monday, Aug. 10 as selectmen approved his contract at the Tuesday, Aug. 4 meeting.
Selectman James McGahan, who raised the issue and volunteered to draft the by-law for town counsel’s review, said that a resident had raised the concern about potential conflicts several months ago.
“I was asked for my opinion and what I intended to do about it,” he said.
He stressed that it was not directed at a specific individual.
Under the proposed by-law, town employees would be allowed to run for selectman, but would have to give up their job during their tenure in office and for a period of time afterward.
“That’s unfortunate, but that’s how it goes,” McGahan said, inviting arguments to the contrary.
Building Department Administrative Assistant Ann-Marie Bouzan, who ran for selectman this year, said she had consulted the state Ethics Commission before entering that race.
She was advised that the only potential conflicts for her, should she be faced with town administrator contract review and negotiation, would arise if there are pending matters in which she had financial interest that the town administrator has direct, immediate power to decide. Otherwise, she was informed, she would not be required to abstain.
As a union steward, she would have been allowed to participate in contract negotiations, but could not vote on the contract had she been elected selectman.
“I’m trying to be as transparent as possible,” Bouzan said. “I just think it’s prohibiting a lot of people from running. The town is only so big — I just want to have that opportunity.”
Selectman Don Howard and Health Board Chairman Gil Amado, who both also sit on the Board of Water Commissioners, would not be affected by the by-law, as the two boards are not connected.
“The incompatibility occurs when the person holding both positions can’t discharge the duties of each,” McGahan said. “It is evident that the selectmen would have the power over the employee in the areas of hiring, firing and determining compensation, which is why I find the two offices incompatible.”
The towns of Carver, Westborough, Concord and Tewksbury have similar by-laws on the books.
In researching the issue, McGahan said he had definite concerns.
“I felt much of the information, although there is no formal state ruling on the matter — suggests that the practice can cause future problems down the road — [and] places an additional workload on officials and, most importantly, provides a disadvantage to the town by not having such a by-law in place,” he argued.
McGahan cited section 23 of the state Ethics Law prohibiting officials from taking additional official actions which “could present the appearance of an impropriety” or cause an impartial observer to suspect bias. Section F forbids actions by officials that could lead an impartial observer to suspect an action had been illegally influenced.
“I felt these two particular points would be difficult to maintain as both a selectman and town employee,” he said, adding that a by-law would get rid of the “good old boy network type of thing.”
Section 20 allows elected officials to hold as many uncompensated or paid elected positions as they wish.
Chairman Bruce Young noted the town administrator, who reports to the Board of Selectmen, is also responsible for evaluating town employees.
“In that particular case you could have a problem,” Young said. “And if you are a union employee, the town administrator acts as the head negotiator for union contracts.”
Bouzan said the conflicts could be resolved by the selectman involved recusing himself or herself from any discussion or vote.
“There’s different issues for every selectman that there’s going to be a chance that somebody’s going to have to recuse themselves,” she said.
Some residents argued a town employee elected, as selectman was most likely to err on the side of caution.
“It’s an interesting issue, but I think we have checks and balances and laws that are currently in place,” said Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “If there were a problem then you could report that to the Ethics Commission. You can also express concern to the employee.”
Residents Thomas Dahlberg and Richard Edgehille voiced support for the proposed by-law.
“I don’t have the same faith in humans as the previous speaker,” Dahlberg said. Abstentions could lead to a lot of tie votes with four selectmen left to make decisions, he argued.
“It’s not anything that has happened, but why let it happen,” he said.
Residents on both sides of the issue agreed the matter was one to be decided by Town Meeting.
In other business, the interim town administrator contract, agreed to during an executive session and reported in public meeting, calls for LaCamera work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. three days a week until he is advised in writing that his services are no longer needed.
On days when he is required to attend Board of Selectmen’s meetings, his hours would be adjusted so that he does not exceed 18 work hours per week.
LaCamera will be earning $65 an hour, but as a part-time employee, will not receive other benefits or compensation other than mileage reimbursement for job-related travel out of town and a town-provided cell phone or $50 reimbursement for using his personal cell phone for town business.
If LaCamera wishes to end his obligations under the contract he must provide written notice of at least 30 calendar days.