Town Meeting denies clerk more pay, decides to vote on appointed position

May 20, 2019

ROCHESTER — Town Meeting voters turned down an amendment proposed on the floor that would have increased the Town Clerk’s salary and approved a vote on whether to make the position an appointed one. 

In reviewing the budget items on May 20, current Town Clerk Naida Parker made a motion to amend her salary from $36,981 to $38,981. 

Parker explained the request by saying that early voting requirements by the state increase the hours for the position and that rather than working 15 hours a week, she works 23. 

“It requires more and more of the town clerk’s time to serve you,” Parker said. “The job can no longer be done on a part-time basis. This [change is] not going to make it a full-time salary.”

She also added that she wants to train her successor when she retires, as she has announced that she will soon.

One of the finance committee members explained that the committee stands by its original recommendation of a two percent increase. It calculated that with an average of 19.5 hours worked Parker would make $38 an hour.

Another Town Clerk article, which still requires a town-wide vote, would give the Board of Selectmen the power to appoint a Town Clerk. Selectman Woody Hartley said that the goal was for the Clerk’s office to be open the same hours as Town Hall. Parker currently sets her own hours and works alone. Hartley said that going back to 1998, the Town Clerk had an assistant and the office was open 27 or 29, then later 37 to 39, hours a week. In 2014 the assistant position disappeared from town records.

As a result of the single-person position, “if the town clerk can’t be there for some reason there is no town clerk,” Hartley said, adding that there are many legitimate reasons for the clerk to request time off. 

Some Rochester residents, like Jean Armstrong, opposed the change. “If elected, the Town Clerk is responsible to the people of the town not to the three people who pay her,” Armstrong said, adding that “I would rather my taxes go to paying someone in town, not someone outside of town.”

Michael Amato pointed out that the town had a bit of a double standard on the position, asking the clerk to “do more in less time.” 

He also emphasized the importance of fair treatment, especially when the clerk is serving the town, and should be treated well. 

Town Counsel Blair Bailey pointed out that although an elected Town Clerk sounds like a good idea in theory, many voters don’t participate enough to make the position accountable.

Planning Board Chair Arnold Johnson expressed dissatisfaction at how the Clerk had been standardizing the bylaws. “As Chair of the Planning Board, we have been specifically left out of this work.” He said that the current document is unusable, and that the Board is currently trying to standardize it. But, “we have been working in a vaccuum. We should be the ones who are driving this.”

Hartley said that he had researched towns of a similar size as Rochester and found little consensus about the position’s hours or salary.

Rochester’s Special Election will be held July 10 to vote on the Town Clerk question and other questions.