March 26, 2013

North Yarmouth panel: Town needs manager position

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

NORTH YARMOUTH — Citing the changing demands on town government and declining participation by residents at the annual town meeting, a charter commission in North Yarmouth is recommending the hiring of a town manager.

The suggestion is the most substantial change in the proposed charter, which will be the subject of a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The commission must finish its work by May 7 so its final proposal can go to voters in June.

The draft proposal was released this month along with several pages of discussion on how to eliminate inefficiencies and streamline administration in the town of 3,565.

As government in North Yarmouth has become more complex while simultaneously being forced to shed full-time workers to cope with budget shortfalls, the nine-member commission determined a day-to-day town manager is the way forward, said Audrey Lones, commission chair.

"I think having a town manager and a strong town office allows continuity for the town, while boards of selectmen turn over annually," Lones said. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel."

Currently in North Yarmouth, a five-member Board of Selectmen is responsible for day-to-day operations of the town, although the members are part time and only a few work locally, said Lones, making it difficult for the board to maintain close control.

The selectmen depend on an administrative assistant, Marney Diffin, who carries out the board's decisions and runs the town office four days a week.

Although Diffin performs many of the duties of a town manager, the position does not carry the commensurate administrative power such as hiring and firing staff, recommending ordinance changes, and exercising daily control over town departments.

Diffin was paid $66,653.85 in the fiscal year ending June 2012, and is one of only six full-time town employees, three of whom work in the office, according to public payroll records.

In an email, Diffin declined to comment on the ongoing charter process, citing a conflict of interest because her job is threatened by the charter proposal.

Under the proposal, Lones said, selectmen would hire a town manager and determine compensation, although there are stipulations in place to allow for a transitional period between forms of government.

In addition to eliminating the job of administrative assistant, the nine-member charter commission also recommended trimming the number of committees that operate under selectmen, and eliminating groups that are redundant or inactive.

According to the preliminary report, attendance for some committees dipped too low for a quorum. Targeted to be cut are the future lands committee, the conservation commission and the municipal fire protection committee, according to the report.

The commission also recommended moving the annual town meeting forward two months to April and sharpening charter language that defines duties and responsibilities in government. It also establishes a basic conflict-of-interest policy for town employees, a first.

The new charter also would shift some responsibilities to selectmen, including correcting minor errors in statutes that otherwise would require approval at town meeting.

 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
mbyrne@mainetoday.com

 

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