A - Town General

Posted on: December 6, 2017

Manager's Message (12/4)

Dawn Francis, Town Manager

Proposed Charter Change for March 2018 Ballot

In 2014, per a recommendation by the Governance Committee, a proposed amendment to the Colchester Charter was approved by the Selectboard for the November ballot. The proposed change would have made the Town Clerk/Treasurer an appointed (i.e. hired) position rather than an elected one. It was put to the voters and voted down by a 13 vote margin.

Upon the second review of the Charter by the Governance Committee, their recommendation for the change stood and at the November 28th Selectboard meeting the board again approved initiation of the process for placing the charter change question on the March 2018 ballot.

The amendment is endorsed by Colchester’s longtime Town Clerk/Treasurer, Karen Richard, who has been in the position since 1998. In a memo to the Selectboard Ms. Richard stated:

“Today’s Town Clerk and Treasurer Office is not the same as 30 years ago. The Town Clerk is the custodian of all public records, including land records, election records, vital records, etc. The Town Treasurer is a key player in maintaining the Town’s financial records and invests Town monies, bills and collects Town and Education taxes, makes deposits, etc. The banking is online; the tax payments are received from escrow companies electronically. The land records are scanned and the images can be researched online. Voters register on the State Election system, and through the automatic registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles; election results are entered electronically to the Secretary of State website. Today’s Town Clerk/Treasurer must keep up with rapidly changing technologies as well as the multitude of statutory changes.”

Ms. Richard also noted a number of serious drawbacks to electing the Town Clerk/Treasurer including:

  • Lack of oversight / accountability
  • No guarantee of candidates’ qualification for the position
  • No requirement for certification
  • No requirement for training or continued education as technology evolves
  • A clerk suspected of fraud can remain in the position
  • Internal controls cannot be mandated by the Town Manager or auditors

All other Department Heads in the Town are hired on the merits of their qualifications and all are accountable to the Town Manager for their performance. The status of the Town Clerk/Treasurer is equal to that of the other Department Heads. The office’s responsibilities are enormous and require a wide variety of skill sets: knowledge of technology, finances, taxes, state statutes, legal procedures, and more. It is not difficult to imagine the chaos that could ensue if a new Clerk/Treasurer was unprepared for the challenge.

Colchester residents have been extremely fortunate that Ms. Richard has taken the initiative over the years to keep abreast of trends and training for her office. We have her to thank for Colchester’s searchable online public records and that the Town is keeping up with ever-increasing demands to conduct business online.  

We hope you will consider this information and a charter change that will ensure that the position of Town Clerk/Treasurer will be filled in future by a person who comes with the skills and experience necessary for the continued smooth, efficient operation of the Clerk’s Office and the Town of Colchester.

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