Questions Raised Over Proposed Charter Change

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – At a hearing on November 18, the Hardwick Select Board heard questions from residents Orise Ainsworth and Paul Fixx about the proposed charter change.

The articles going before voters are Article 1, which primarily deals with language changes such as changing “selectmen” to “selectboard;” Article 2 asks about combining the town clerk and town treasurer into one position; Article 3 asks about changing the position or positions of town clerk and treasurer into ones appointed by the select board instead of elected; and Article 4 asks about the same change, but for assistant town clerk and town treasurer.

One implication of changing the positions from elected to appointed is that if elected, those residents must be Hardwick voters. If appointed, no such requirement applies. 

Ainsworth, who said she agreed with everything except for changing the positions to appointed, said that, as currently worded, in her interpretation Article 1 could still give the select board the power to appoint those positions. She reiterated her opposition to changing the positions from elected to appointed.

“I have not heard anything other than insults coming from this board that there’s no one smart enough in the town of Hardwick to run for clerk and treasurer and that the voters are not smart enough not to elect someone that’s not qualified.”   

She then said that the board’s representation of separating the changes was not what they said.

“I’m very offended… and it’s a good thing I didn’t take you on your word that you separated it. Because even if I vote yes on Article 1 and no on Articles 2,3, and 4 you still have the opportunity to stop us from electing a town clerk and treasurer and appointing one because Article I gives you that power.”

She said that there were places in the Article 1 changes that were worded in such a way that the board would still have the power to appoint those positions. Ainsworth said that the board needed to change the wording that night to comply with legal requirements for warning twenty days out. 

Board member Elizabeth Dow said that the document had been vetted by town attorney Bill Davies and the secretary of state “and they did not see the interpretation that you see.”

Ainsworth replied, “I’m sorry, but if this is not amended I will [be] letting people in Hardwick know they’re giving [the board] the power [to appoint].” She added that she did not trust the way things had been handled until that point or the town’s lawyer and she did not trust the state not to make changes to the town charter of its own once it was sent to the legislature for approval. 

She said “the legislature… [or] the governor can change anything in our charter and approve it. And once the governor signs it, we’re stuck.”

Vice chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane said that “it would be a shame if some of the changes we’re trying to make weren’t made because we’re stuck on this issue.” She said that the change from listers to assessors faced a deadline due to the listers’ imminent retirement. 

Fixx asked about that change, and Remick said that the town had made attempts to hire new listers, but had not received enough interest. He added that many towns were finding themselves in the same position of needing to change from listers to assessors. Fixx asked about the cost difference, and business manager Casey Rowell said it would end up costing $23,000 more for assessors than listers. Fixx said that the town should clarify that extra cost for voters.

The board called Alberta Miller to get answers to Ainsworth’s questions. She said that the legislature would be receiving a complete charter change document from her that reflected the will of the voters, not making the changes on its own. Miller said that Davies explained the wording was put as it was because it was “complicated” and necessary to make the change valid. Galloway-Kane asked Ainsworth if it would help if the board were to communicate the changes’ wording with examples. Ainsworth said that would help and understood this was the process, but said that it was “absurd.” 

The town website notes that “voting will be done by Australian ballot either by absentee ballot or in person at the Hardwick Memorial Building Thursday December 09, 2021 from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm.”