HANSON — The Select Board on Tuesday, July 19 revisited the workload facing their administrative staff, including how that issue will affect preparation for the Oct. 3 special Town Meeting.
The firm due date for articles will be Aug. 23.
“For annual Town Meeting, we were gracious and did accept warrant articles after the due date,” said Town Administrator Lisa Green, “This time, unfortunately, that cannot happen. We have one person in the Select Board office. We can’t accept any articles past Aug. 23.”
“We’re shutting it down,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed about the deadline.
Green also noted that a survey of area towns’ staffing numbers in the Select Board office involved communities with larger populations than Hanson. She said the current conditions, which serve to perpetuate the revolving door at the Select Board office does no one any favors.
“I did some additional research and looked at other towns,” she said. “It’s very hard to find towns with exactly the same population in the area.”
She researched Lakeville (pop. 11,523) has three people — a town administrator, assistant town administrator, and executive assistant to the select board and town administrator; Hanover (14,833), with a larger commercial base and budget has a town manager, assistant town manager, an HR director, a director of public affairs and a communications specialist; Freetown (9.206) has an interim town administrator, an executive assistant and an administrative assistant; Kingston (13,708) has a town administrator, an assistant to the board of selectmen, and assistant to the TA and selectmen; Acushnet (10,559) has a town administrator, and executive assistant and adminstrative assistant; Holbrook (11,405) has a town administrator and assistant to the town administrator.
Holbrook recently approved a third position — a third, 19-hour per week position — at Town Meeting.
Neighboring Whitman (15,121) has a town administrator and an executive assistant. They have had an assistant town administrator position and are now looking to hire a Human Resources/grant writer/procurement officer. West Bridgewater (7,707) has a town administrator, assistant town administrator and an executive assistant.
“I got a lot of blowback from various and sundry people,” board member Ann Rain said. “I have to say they refuse to see the need, and I find that very interesting.”
She said the town does have the need for another person in the Select Board office.
“I’ve watched the need,” she said. “Just because we didn’t have it before, doesn’t mean we don’t need it now.”
She stressed that things have changed, especially with the number of Freedom of Information Act requests now being seen by the office.
“People have to realize [that] things move on,” she said. “I’m saying this very specifically, so it’s heard.”
She said an organizational study done about 2009 should be looked at with an eye toward how much change has taken place in the past 13 years.
FitzGerald-Kemmett also pointed to the work involved in processing online liquor licenses.
“You would think that going from paper to online would be easier, but it actually is way more [complicated],” she said.
Rain said she is not advocating using town money frivolously.
“You can’t have this going on where we’re losing people because there’s too much work,” she said, “We can’t have that. We need to fix it and we need to fix it with another person.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett added that, if the board wants to add communication and updated website, the lack of adequate staff means they are barely able to get through the day-to-day,
“I see [Green’s] car here at all hours of the day, she’s working weekends … we’re not trying to spend anyone’s money unnecessarily,” she said.
Green said she had heard a comment that someone should take minutes during the meeting and tried doing that but said it was very tough to keep up with the conversation and type at the same time.
“Especially you, because you are an integral part of the meeting,” Rain said.
“There isn’t a board member here that isn’t trying to keep the fiscal responsibility and the fiduciary responsibility paramount as our responsibility as selectmen,” board member Joe Weeks said. “I think it’s financially irresponsible to try to do more with less.”
He said the current situation is paying someone too much to “sit there and take minutes.”
Weeks also cautioned about the potential liability for the town in the event of an error.
“It could cost us millions of dollars, when really what we need to do is just to fund a position,” he said. “That really is the risk that you run.”
Rain said she is seeking people to volunteer to serve with her on the refreshed Highway Building Committee.