Southborough has elected one Town Clerk for 45 years. Last week, the Town announced he will retire this winter.
At last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Chair Bill Boland shared the news. Paul Berry will retire on February 13th.
Boland characterized Berry as “one of the deans of Town Clerks in the Commonwealth.”
Selectmen will appoint an interim Clerk to cover until the May 2015 election.
Town Administrator, Mark Purple, informs me that the interim Clerk doesn’t need to live in town.* A non-resident member of the Town Clerk’s office could be eligible for the temporary post.
He expects selectmen to address the interim post at their January 6th meeting.
This past spring, selectmen sought to change the position of Town Clerk from elected to appointed. The intent was to put plans in place for when Berry would retire. Until then, they would keep Berry in the post.
The article was voted down at Town Meeting. One of its most vocal opponents was Berry.
Selectmen counseled that the Town should hire someone qualified for the post. They justified that the position requires specific knowledge and experience.
But Berry addressed the room about the importance of electing a Town Clerk. He believed the overseer of elections should report directly to voters. With others echoing the sentiment, voters at Town Meeting agreed.
This past May, Berry ran unopposed for a term set to end in May 2017. According to Metrowest Daily News, Berry has been unopposed for most of his career.
In 2006, Berry informed MWDN that he was only opposed in his first election:
Since then, all races were uncontested every three years.
“I feel you have more independence if you are elected — you will do exactly what the law says,” said Berry.
In 2013, after 5.5% voter turnout in the 2013 town election, MWDN interviewed Berry about declining voter participation:
Berry, a lifelong resident who has served as town clerk for 44 years, said he believes Monday’s turnout is the smallest of his tenure.
“I have never seen a turnout this low. Even when we had 4,000 residents,” he said. . .
Berry said the low turnout followed a poor showing at Town Meeting, where fewer than 190 people came out and wrapped up things in one night.
“People just said yes, yes, yes (without asking questions),” he said. “You can’t learn anything unless you ask questions.” (read more)
Last May, voter turnout was again lower than Berry hoped. Southborough Wicked Local reported that it was 11% lower than Berry’s projections. While some attributed it to voters feeling frustrated about politics, Berry summed it up as “Laziness”.
Those who did turnout gave Berry a vote of confidence. According to SWL, though he wasn’t the only unopposed candidate, he received the most votes.
*Editor’s Note: Sorry for the delay in sharing the news on this retirement. I was waiting for more details from the Town about next steps. They were in turn waiting to hear from Town Counsel.