In break from tradition, Select Board places hold on dozens of volunteer positions

The Marblehead Select Board has placed a four-month hold on reappointing over 100 volunteers to commissions, committees and boards — including the Finance Committee — signaling a shift in approach and break from the precedent following the June 20 election that unseated longterm member Jackie Belf-Becker and replaced her with Bret Murray.

Photo slugged select board. CUTLINE: Select Board members voted to hold the reappointments of over 100 volunteers until Nov. 1. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

Murray’s motion for the hold passed on a 4-to-1 vote, with Select Board members Erin Noonan, Moses Grader and Alexa Singer in the affirmative. Select Board member Jim Nye was the lone dissent.

“This will hold the existing volunteers until Nov. 1,”  Murray said. “It’s not to say those people won’t be reappointed.”

The pause buys time for the Select Board to conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of Select Board-appointed volunteer boards, committees and commissions and its reappointment process. The decision represents a distinct departure from the board’s traditional practice of making reappointments and appointments fewer than 24 hours after the annual town election.

“You get elected on Tuesday, and then Wednesday you’re expected to come in and, in return, vote on all these boards,” Murray said during a 45-minute discussion on this topic alone. “I just don’t think that’s fair to anybody having been just elected.”

Diplomacy and deliberation

Although Grader voted in favor, he disagreed with the four-month pause. 

“I am very much in favor of the Select Board’s seeking to understand and review the governance, appointments, morale and effectiveness of our volunteer committees and boards appointed by the Select Board,” said Grader in a follow-up email.  “I agree with the intent and objectives of such a review, but I do not agree with the means and the process by which my colleagues seek to do so.”

Grader believes placing all volunteers on hold until what he considers to be “an arbitrary date” will have several negative consequences.

“I believe the process is likely to create unnecessary procedural confusion across the many diverse committees with very different and often complex statutory mandates and, unless handled with diplomacy and deliberation, could potentially undermine legitimate prerogatives of the committee chairs, hinder committee functioning and damage the open spirit of inclusive volunteerism,” he said. 

For Grader, Murray’s motion surprised him.

“I decided to vote in favor because I wanted to give my colleagues the benefit of the doubt, “said Grader. “I also support the general objectives of a responsive review. In addition to communicating my general agreement, supporting the current motion gives me the option to appeal to my board colleagues to reconsider the motion at the next Select Board meeting.”

Grader hopes that after the Select Board will take a two-week period of contemplation and reappoint volunteers, potentially with their terms ending in May rather than June next year. This adjustment would provide the Select Board with more time to review reappointments before the fiscal year’s end. He further suggests a motion to initiate the Select Board’s review this year, clearly stating the purpose and objectives of such a review.

Breaking cyclical reappointments

Noonan wants to break away from the current timing cycle associated with the reappointment process and conduct a thorough review. 

“Getting off the cycle of board reappointments would serve us better. This involves moving the process to an earlier time, allowing for comprehensive information before voting,” she said. “Moreover, we need to pause and review our policies while also soliciting feedback from our volunteers on the reappointment process.”

She proposed actively seeking feedback from volunteers and developing a policy that aligns with the Town Meeting mandate for structured procedures regarding appointments and reappointments.

Nye expressed worry about the impact on specific committees, suggesting that the new Select Board may want to rework the Finance Committee and Harbors and Waters Board. 

“It pains me to say it, but I’m really worried [about] who’s going to be the sacrificial committee because it’s pretty clear: This is all about the Finance Committee and the Harbors and Waters Board,” he said. “One of these committees is going to suffer by getting cut, in my opinion.”

Singer underscored the significance of effectively communicating the four-month pause with volunteers, emphasizing that the hold on appointments should not be seen as a reflection of their commitment. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to discuss the current procedures.

“We need to make a proactive effort to reach out to all the volunteers, communicating the reasoning and the process behind any changes,” she said. “It’s important to ensure that we’re not disrespecting our current volunteers and their commitment. We are merely discussing the pros and cons of the current procedure.”

There are many volunteer committees impacted by the hold, including Zoning Board of Appeals, Old and Historic Districts Commission, Task Force Against Discrimination and Disabilities Commission.

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