Town Meeting: Budget decisions turn into referrendums on Town Clerk and EDC

Last night, Town Meeting voters were asked to approve the FY18 Town Budget. Getting through the Town’s budget article took more than an hour and twenty minutes of last night’s meeting.

The decisions came down to calls by the about 3% of Southborough voters who turned up. The result was a $51,548,662 budget, projected to result in an estimated 1.52% tax increase.

Two budget items “held” for discussion turned into debates on more than just spending: 

  • A significant raise for the Town Clerk was hotly contested, then overwhelmingly approved.
  • A motion to eliminate the Economic Development Committee’s Coordinator was considered. But the EDC convinced the majority of the hall to keep funding the job.

The budget included a salary raise of 65.19% for Town Clerk Jim Hegarty. That will bring his salary up from $50,284 to $83,064. The Advisory Committee approved the bump but asked for a 6 month delay to keep down the increase to this year’s budget. That still increased his salary budget over last year’s by 32.59%.

Bill Boland is running against Hegarty for the Clerk position in the May 9th election. Last night he questioned Hegarty’s proposed raise.

Boland moved that a 10% raise to $55,000 would acknowledge Hegarty’s good performance. He pointed to the Town Clerk’s requested budget as being higher than surrounding towns. 

Boland said he wasn’t a believer in putting yourself up for a big raise and summed up the department’s costs as “a little out of control”.

Desiree Aselbekian supported Boland’s motion. She told the room that she had planned to ask for a 3% raise, in keeping with other non-union personnel raises. Aselbekian said that higher salaries in larger surrounding towns and cities are associated with full time appointed positions.

Aselbekian furthered that Southborough’s elected Town Clerk isn’t a full time job and doesn’t have a set hours. Elected officials are just required to get the job done. She suggested that if the Town wants to pay for a “40 hour per week” Clerk, then there should be a set of duties “set by Town Meeting so we know exactly what we’re getting for our money.”

Marty Healey rebutted that he didn’t want a 40 hour requirement for Hegarty “because I do not want to cut his hours that dramatically.” He was one of several speakers who spoke in passionate favor of Hegarty’s performance and supported the raise. 

Residents spoke about Hegarty’s long hours, nights, weekends, and quick responses to queries at all times. They referred to improved technology replacing old computers.

Claire Reynolds told voters that he brought the office into a newer age and “he’s made things easier for the residents.” Paul Carter spoke to the importance of having a full time Clerk and his amazement at what Hegarty had managed to do in his short time in the job.

Hegarty explained a raise had been previously recommended by Advisory. He pushed it off last year since he was completing the previous Town Clerk’s term. Then he went back to Advisory with a salary based on averaging figures from surrounding towns.

The current Town Clerk told voters: 

If you want this to be a full time position with someone to do the best job they can for you, then I think you should compensate at a fair price. It’s as simple as that.

If you don’t want that, then you should vote differently, and you should consider that in your choice as to who you elect.

Boland’s motion was soundly defeated with only a few voter cards raised. Voters then overwhelmingly approved the Advisory recommended motion for a full raise, delayed by 6 months.

As for the EDC Coordinator, former Advisory Member John Butler moved to eliminate the position’s salary. He claimed that his research found towns’ spending on economic development to attract and grow business doesn’t work.

Upon questioning, Advisory explained that they had recommended the job be eliminated. But they changed that vote based on other budget compromises reached with selectmen. 

[Note: I watched that discussion. Even when Advisory supported eliminating the salary, the vote was split. Some members were unconvinced EDC’s work makes a difference. Some seemed to believe it does. In the end, a requirement to secure more votes was EDC’s promise to return to Advisory to work on ways to better measure success.]

Prior to Butler, Marnie Hoolahan said she was unhappy with lack of metrics showing success measures. She then pointed to other boards and committees in Town as seeming to need support. She advised that the position be held for a study of Town-wide staffing needs. Hoolahan posited that it might make more sense to have someone full time who supports multiple departments, like Conservation and Open Space. 

Over a call to move the question, EDC quickly presented that the committee does important work for residents. And they said that EDC is the car and the Coordinator is the engine that makes it work.

The vote to eliminate the salary was opposed 97 to 78.


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mark dassoni
7 years ago

tonight meeting should be calm and quick , replacement moderator might get some bumps in the road but should handle his duties ,all should be done before 11:30pm,Mark Dassoni .

7 years ago

Your not the first person to notice and that behavior doesn’t end at the hall door either. I try and have fun with it as best I can as you are correct, She has the right to voice her opinion.

room temp
7 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Yes she has the right and I totally agree with what you said but she wastes collosal amounts of time with her agendas. The other night her and Boland not reading the room wasted at least a half hour about the Town Clerk. This kind of behavior is what keeps most people away from Town Meeting. Also, and I am sure most people knew this but Boland should have disclosed he is running again the current Town Clerk before he started his diatribe.

Final Vote results: Against Raise 3 (Boland, Aselbekian, Mom Aselbekian plus 1 late raise of hand)
Vote For Raise: Rest of Room

Give me a break
7 years ago
Reply to  room temp

Town Meeting is one big personal agenda: keep everyone else away by creating so much confusion and petty chicanery that people will be turned off and not attend. Mission accomplished. By my calculation it worked, 99.97% of the town’s population did not attend!

Sure, blame us for not attending, but twelve hours over three nights is not a great return on the investment. Stivers wastes far more time than anyone else. Hey, why not four or five nights?

Matthew Brownell
7 years ago

Sam Stivers is a model of gargantuan intellect, integrity, commitment, and sincere interest in representing and safeguarding Southborough’s public interest . . as opposed to the current Southborough status quo within the Selectmen, ZBA, and Town Counsel . . which has become a unaccountable, ossified, unrepresentative cluster of lawyers providing EZPass access to a handful of special interests. Moreover, time has shown a disturbing, escalating, and destructive “ends-justify-the-means” operating mentality within our Southborough body politic.

This year’s Annual Town Meeting was a very sad time for Southborough. All the warrants brought to the floor by Mr. Stivers failed. Particularly – the right of recall , which effectively reins-in elected officials who clearly and demonstrably run amok, and do not represent the interests of the public who placed them into office.

And perhaps the most frustrating and alarming red-flag warrant failure – would have given the ability of Town Boards to secure independent special counsel. Allowing this warrant to fail is akin to ensuring that the wolves remain in charge of guarding the henhouse. . . as aptly demonstrated and witnessed in the Park Central fiasco, and the multiple denials by Selectmen to allow independent special counsel for Southborough’s Planning Board. Is it REALLY a mystery why this warrant was not supported by the Selectmen, Town Counsel, and ZBA?

Difficult to convey my sentiments on what is probably one of the darkest times in Southborough Town Government history. We are currently a VERY long way from accountable representation. More maddening, those in power in Southborough who CAN make a difference are either arrogantly dismissing concerns of local residents, believe we are too colossally inept to understand and act on policies that have an adverse impact on the town.

Either way, it’s a travesty, disservice, and dangerous sell-out of the majority, common sense interests of Southborough’s residents.

mark dassoni
7 years ago

agree ,only if moderator do not use straw votes to push articles through. mark dassoni

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