NORRIDGEWOCK — Few residents attended a public hearing Wednesday night about the positions of town clerk and treasurer, though those who did expressed support for a proposed change that would make the positions appointive rather than elective.

“This has been very frustrating for (the office clerks),” said Norridgewock Town Office Clerk and Interim Town Clerk Sharon Dodge, referring to the fact that before her appointment as interim clerk, residents were unable to do town clerk business during regular office hours.

“It is very difficult to turn people away when in some cases they come in pleading for help,” she said.

The question of whether to elect or appoint town clerk and treasurer has come up at least four times in the last six years in Norridgewock. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to put the issue to referendum after a petition was brought up by an anonymous resident earlier this month asking for the change. It will be voted on March 7 by secret ballot at the Town Meeting.

On Wednesday, Town Manager Richard LaBelle presented the selectmen with a list of advantages and disadvantages to appointing or electing people to each position.

With appointed officials, it is easier for the town to regulate their hours; the job can be held by Town Office employees; there is a consistent schedule for public access; the employee is subject to review by the town manager; and the qualifications of the employee can be verified before they are appointed, according to LaBelle.

Meanwhile, the hours of elected officials cannot be regulated; regular office staff members are not able to perform the duties of the elected person if the latter is unavailable; there are few or no requirements for education or training; and the position is subject to annual election.

No one at Wednesday night’s public hearing voiced opposition to the proposed changes, which also follow the recent resignation of former Town Clerk Kerri Everett.

Helen Balgooyen, the only resident to speak at the meeting who was not a public official or town employee, said she thought there would be more oversight of appointive positions.

“The townspeople oversee them if they’re elected, but I can go to a selectmen’s meeting and have some idea of what’s going on, but how do you do that with the town treasurer? I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I have no way of checking treasurer work to know if they’re being honest or not.”

Selectman Jim Lyman also said there is a financial savings associated with appointing a town clerk, since the town would not have to spend as much on training for an elected town clerk, who could be a different person each year.

“I am not in favor of more government in our lives and certainly don’t want to lose my right to vote for who I feel is the best qualified candidate for the position,” Lyman said in a written statement on the issue. “Having said that, I have changed my view on this issue and now see some positive benefits to having these positions appointed.”

The proposed changes to the two jobs would take effect in 2017 if approved, and while Town Treasurer Jessica Everett is running for re-election, no one is running for town clerk. Selectmen said Wednesday night that the job would be given to a write-in candidate and that if no one accepts, someone will be appointed to the job. The town clerk appointee would likely be one of the office clerks, said Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Ron Frederick.

In his statement, Lyman said he thinks the current town treasurer is doing a good job and that she would be able to apply for the job if residents decide to make the position appointive.

“Over the past decade, we have seen a downward trend in citizens getting involved in public service,” he said. “I do not want the town’s finances entrusted to someone that gets the most votes. I would prefer the person be well qualified to conduct the town’s business.”

Dodge also read a statement before the board that she said was written on behalf of her and Kelly Green, the other office clerk in the Town Office. Both were appointed interim town clerks after Everett’s resignation in December.

Everett, who did not keep regular office hours but worked on an on-call basis, said at the time that she resigned because the $3,500 stipend for the town clerk was not enough to pay for the amount of time needed to perform the job.

On Wednesday, Dodge said it was frustrating for her and Green when residents came into the Town Office looking to do business with the town clerk and had to be turned away.

“It’s not (Everett’s) fault,” Dodge said. “She has a full-time job and was being paid $3,500 per year. We never said, ‘Oh, you can’t get a hold of the town clerk. That’s ridiculous.’ We knew she was doing the best she could, but that didn’t matter to people. If they wanted to speak to the town clerk, they didn’t care.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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