No new board of sewer commissioners. No residency requirement for the town administrator. No dual chairmanships for people serving on boards and committees. No need for “strong” or “weak” chief status for the town’s police and fire chiefs.
Those were just a few of the suggestions relative to the Bourne Town Charter offered by board of selectmen chairwoman Judith M. Froman during the charter review committee’s remote meeting on Wednesday, March 10. Ms. Froman gave her opinion on a wide range of topics, notably separating the sewer commissioners from the selectmen, and language relative to the authority of the chiefs of police and fire.
A key issue that has been explored by the review committee has been whether to take away from the board of selectmen its responsibility as the board of sewer commissioners. The committee has raised with several town officials the question of creating two separate entities.
As written, a section of the town charter stipulates that the selectmen shall function as the sewer commissioners “until such time as the town adopts legislation creating a board of sewer commissioners.”
Ms. Froman told the committee that she is not in favor of creating a new board of sewer commissioners, separate and apart from the board of selectmen. She pointed to the current situation in Wareham, where there are two separate entities. She said the two boards are “not at the same level of authority, and don’t necessarily support each other.”
“It’s a lot of spinning wheels,” she said, suggesting the two boards do not get any traction when addressing issues.
She said that separating the two entities would create an opportunity for the two boards to wind up working against each other. Such a situation would manifest itself, she said, “if the sewer commissioners do not agree with the direction of the select board.”
Selectmen Peter J. Meier and James L. Potter were each interviewed by the charter review committee in January and February, respectively. Mr. Meier said he believes the time has come to adopt legislation for a separate board of sewer commissioners. Mr. Potter echoed Ms. Froman’s stance that a separate board would be a mistake. Like Ms. Froman, he referred to the current situation in Wareham.
Ms. Froman also suggested that the role of the sewer commissioners will eventually be less relevant in town government than it is currently. State regulations, she said, will factor primarily in protection of local waters. She said that sewer commission authority should continue to rest with the selectmen, and their responsibility will largely be approval of sewer rates as presented by town staff, she said.
Ultimately, however, the responsibilities of the sewer commissioners— such as setting sewer rates—should be left with the board of selectmen, she said. An advisory group can always be established to assist the selectmen/sewer commissioners in the event of special circumstances or specific needs relative to sewer issues that arise, she said.
Ms. Froman suggested that a separate board of sewer commissioners to deal with many of the sewer issues confronting the town might be a good idea for the immediate future. The board should be composed of individuals with expertise in the area who can guide the town’s efforts, she said. She speculated that the town could eventually abandon any vestige of a sewer commission.
“I think it’s fine now to have those sewer commissioners, but we may want to shift away from even having that, and just have the board of selectmen,” she said.
Committee member Barbara Princiotta mentioned an inconsistency in the current charter relative to language regarding the authority of the fire chief versus the police chief. The fire chief is considered a “strong chief” with near-total control over the department, while the police chief is considered a “weak chief” with less authority, she said. She asked Ms. Froman if there should be more consistency with the two positions.
Ms. Froman said she preferred to see consistency in the charter. She also admitted to not having firm understanding of the difference between strong and weak chief. She suggested that neither distinction was necessary, since both are ultimately responsible to the town administrator.
“That’s my simplistic look, from a management perspective,” she said.
Member Joseph P. Gordon asked if Ms. Froman feels the town administrator is better equipped to hire or promote people than the fire chief, a professional with hazardous materials and firefighting experience. Ms. Froman said she does not believe the town administrator moves ahead with hiring and promoting based on the recommendations of the chiefs.
“I don’t think the town administrator really should be that involved with the people below the directors. That should be up to the directors,” she said.
Ms. Froman also weighed in on the section of the charter pertaining to the Bourne Finance Committee. She noted that the charter prohibits town employees, including school employees, from serving on that committee.
She suggested that the section be amended to add a prohibition on the committee’s chairman from serving as the chairman of another town board or committee. She expanded her response to include anyone who chairs a town board or committee.
“I don’t have a problem with them serving on other committees,” she said, “but I think that giving more people experience with being chair is helpful.”
Finance committee chairwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo also serves as chairwoman of the Bourne Capital Outlay Committee and the Bourne Wastewater Facility Design and Building Committee.
Ms. Froman opined on the issue of whether the charter should stipulate that the town administrator establish residency in the Town of Bourne. The charter currently states that the administrator will establish primary residency in Barnstable, Bristol or Plymouth County within one year of being appointed to the position.
The charter allows for that deadline to be extended to a specific time “for establishing residence or otherwise allow the town administrator to reside outside of those counties.” Ms. Froman said she considers the residency requirement to be pointless.
“As long as the person is doing their job and meeting expectations, then it should be irrelevant. If they’re not meeting expectations, then it’s a job performance issue and should be handled as a personnel matter,” she said.