EDITORIAL: Time for a change

At its first meeting after this year’s town election, the Select Board and its new majority broke with long-standing tradition and voted to postpone its annual process of making appointments to the various town boards, committees and commissions that fall under its jurisdiction.

Until now, such appointments, which for the most part constitute reappointments of volunteer citizens, have been made immediately after the annual town election. Whether or not that is the optimum time to take such action, it nonetheless has been that way for decades — if not forever.

New member Bret Murray, who had been a past Select Board member for a number of years, proposed the postponement. To our knowledge, in past years while serving on the Select Board, Murray had not objected to the traditional approach, but he does make a valid argument in support of changing the date for such appointments.

Returning members of the Select Board may well be familiar with the boards, committees and commissions and their respective appointees, but for a newly elected Select Board member, she or he is being called upon to make immediate decisions on such votes without having the opportunity to learn more about the appointees, who total well over 100 volunteer citizens.

Given that many, if not most, of these appointments are for one-year terms, having sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the prospective appointees and their boards, committees and commissions makes sense.

This leads us to ask, “When is the best time to make such appointments?” Our fiscal year begins on July 1, and Town Meeting sets the budget for the upcoming fiscal year in early May. It would seem that having the appointment/reappointment process take place in late May or early June would be the optimal time to have such votes occur.

Town Meeting will have voted for a balanced budget and — if deemed necessary and appropriate — a budget that is dependent on approval by the voters for an override. Either way, the work of the current Finance Committee will have concluded for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Finance Committee begins to prepare for the following year’s town budget shortly after the start of each fiscal year. It is critical that they have ample time to work together to formulate their budget recommendations for the next annual Town Meeting.

And by the end of May each year, with the next fiscal year’s budget having been approved, the members of the Select Board will have been afforded almost one full year to familiarize themselves with the candidates coming before them for appointment/reappointment to all of our town boards, committees and commissions. This can ensure a smooth continuation of those aspects of our town’s operation that are managed by citizens dedicated to volunteering their time and expertise for the public good.

Jim Nye, our longest-serving member of the current Select Board, expressed his concern that the recent action to delay the appointment process is actually motivated by a desire on the part of certain of his colleagues to rework the Finance Committee and the Harbors and Waters Board. We certainly hope that his concern is not the real reason for the Board’s vote to postpone all of its appointments.

In that regard, it is equally important that we encourage and not discourage volunteerism in Marblehead. We have so many talented ’Headers who thanklessly devote countless hours each year, carrying out the tasks required of them in their various appointed positions. The underlying message to our volunteers must stress that a change in the timing of the appointment process is not to suggest they are not worthy of reappointment, should they so wish, but rather that it simply makes sense going forward to have a new start date for their valuable and much appreciated work, so as to ensure that the very people voting on their new or continued service have ample time to be in a position to cast an informed vote.

The Current Editorial Board
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The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.

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