Donald J. Pickard, former Bourne selectman and outgoing town moderator, counts himself as a man of many opinions. He recently shared a few of those opinions, some of which have contrasted sharply with those of current selectmen, with members of the Bourne Charter Review Committee.
Mr. Pickard expressed his feelings on a variety of issues during the committee’s remote meeting last Wednesday, March 31. Some of the issues he addressed included whether Bourne’s town clerk should be appointed or elected, whether the town administrator needs to reside in Bourne, whether one person may serve as the chairperson of multiple town boards or committees, and whether the town should establish a board of sewer commissioners separate from the Bourne Board of Selectmen.
On the last issue, Mr. Pickard pointed out that the town charter currently reads that the selectmen shall function as the sewer commissioners until the town adopts such legislation as to create a separate board of sewer commissioners. He told the review committee that, in his opinion, “it’s time to do that.”
He suggested that the new board be comprised of representatives from various town boards and committees. His recommendation was that the membership be comprised of someone from the Bourne Finance Committee, the Board of Health, the Conservation Commission, the Capital Outlay Committee and the Buzzards Bay Water District.
The members would not be appointed by the selectmen, he said. Instead, they would be voted to the board by the membership of the committee or board they represent to serve as its delegate. That would take all the politics out of the appointments, Mr. Pickard said.
“Sometimes sewer allocations are like political footballs,” he said.
Selectmen Judith M. Froman and James L. Potter have each voiced opposition to creating a separate sewer board. Both pointed to the Town of Wareham, which has separate boards, and described the situation there as deficient. Their colleague on the board, Peter J. Meier, told the review committee he would be in favor of a separate sewer board.
Review committee member Joseph K. Gordon noted the opposition of Ms. Froman and Mr. Potter was due, in part, to a lack of authority given to the Wareham commissioners. Both said the same would be true in Bourne, with the new sewer commissioners lacking the power to spend money and unable to make decisions without approval from the selectmen. Mr. Gordon asked how Bourne could avoid such an obstacle.
Mr. Pickard said the day-to-day operations of the sewer department would be handled by the professional staff at town hall, under the direction of the director of the Department of Public Works. The sewer commissioners’ role, he said, would be largely advisory, and they would set the sewer rates as recommended by the town administrator’s staff.
As for decision-making, Mr. Pickard said the chairman of the sewer commissioners should have the same leadership authority as the chairman of the board of selectmen. Asked if there is precedent for town boards and committees to appoint a representative to another town board or committee, Mr. Pickard pointed to the Integrated Solid Waste Management Business Model Working Group. That group includes, in part, members from the selectmen and the health board, the finance and capital outlay committees, and a member at-large, he said.
Mr. Pickard said he did not have a problem with one person serving as either a member or the chairperson of multiple town boards or committees. He pointed out that it is difficult to get volunteers willing to serve on town boards and committees, so “if you’ve got good people participating, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“Not a lot of people jump up and volunteer,” he said. “Not a lot of people have the time; everybody’s busy.”
Review committee member Barbara Princiotta pointed out that some committees have people who have been serving for years on end. Some people might want to get on a committee but cannot because people are not leaving their appointments, she said.
Mr. Pickard noted the town has a policy that states that any committee or board member must make at least 75 percent of scheduled meetings or that person will be notified by the town administrator of potential removal.
Mr. Pickard argued that the position of town clerk in Bourne should remain an elected, not appointed, one. He added that the position, which is currently part-time, should be made full-time. His reason for that, he said, is because the town clerk is also the town’s records access officer, responsible for responding to public records requests.
“This position is necessary for ensuring that public records requests are done with the utmost integrity,” he said. “If the position is appointed by the board of selectmen, there could be an impression that the position could be compromised.”
Mr. Pickard also said he did not see any reason to change the charter to include a town residency requirement for the town administrator. The charter stipulates that the administrator “shall establish primary residence within Barnstable, Bristol or Plymouth county within one year after the date of appointment.”
The charter also allows the selectmen either to extend the timeline or to waive the requirement. Mr. Pickard said a residency requirement could prove detrimental to selecting a new administrator.
“If you were to require residence, it would limit your candidate field,” he said.
Committee members said there had been a suggestion of including the position of assistant town administrator in the charter, which would solidify its place in the town’s executive structure. Committee chairman Stephen F. Mealy said such a position seemed crucial in a town with a $70 million budget.
Mr. Pickard disagreed with that idea and said the town administrator should have the flexibility to do away with the position, if necessary, in lean times. He added that assistant town administrators, in general, stay only two to three years in their position before moving on to a town administrator job in another town.
“It is a valuable position,” he agreed. “Does it need to be in the charter; I’m not convinced of that at this point.”
The charter review committee continues to meet with town officials to determine areas in which they may make recommendations for charter changes. Their recommendations are expected to be presented for resident approval at this fall’s Special Town Meeting.