Marion resident seeks cap on elected positions held

May 2, 2018

Marion residents should be wary of a concentration of power in the town’s government. That’s what resident Ted North thinks, and it’s what he said he’s trying to prevent with a vote at Town Meeting in May.

North collected the 10 required signatures to get a citizen's petition on the Town Meeting agenda, and voters will get the chance to approve his bylaw on May 14.

His petition would limit town employees and elected officials from holding multiple elected positions. The proposed bylaw would also prohibit town employees from serving as selectmen, and if a selectman leaves the board, he or she would be required to wait a full year before being eligible to take any other town job.

Currently, Select Chair Jody Dickerson is also the head of the Recreation Department, while Selectman Norm Hills also holds a position on the Planning Board.

“[The petition] precludes the concentration of power,” North said.

One specific example he gave was regarding Hills and the Complete Streets program. Complete Streets is a state program that helps municipalities pay for improvements to local roads. The Planning Board, which Hills is a member of, explored the program before recommending it to the Board of Selectmen. The selectmen, which Hills is also a member of, voted to approve participation in Complete Streets.

“It’s not a particularly good situation for the taxpayers of Marion to have a single individual making a decision on one board, and then being on another board ratifying it,” North said.

According to the State Ethics Office, however, unless a person or his/her immediate family stands to benefit financially, there is not technically a conflict of interest.

As for Hills, he doesn’t disagree that having someone hold multiple offices could be a problem.

“I’m not sure the town has been mis-served by having people on more than one board,” he said. “But there’s no doubt it could be used detrimentally.”

However, he notes that in a town of Marion's size, it can be hard to get people involved.

“The real challenge for small towns is getting knowledgeable, interested people to get involved,” Hills said. “There are not a lot of people beating down the doors to be on the Conservation Commission.”

Currently, the Conservation Commission is looking for associate members to fill out its board. There are also no contested races in the upcoming town election aside from the Board of Selectmen and Board of Assessors races.

Hills added, however, that serving on multiple boards has given him the knowledge and experience to do his jobs in town successfully.

“I know a lot about the town, I’ve gotten to know who the people are, who does what, the condition of the infrastructure,” he said. “It definitely helps.”

As far as selectmen like Dickerson who are employed by the town, the State Ethics Office allows appointed town employees to serve on the Board of Selectmen as long as they comply with the state’s criteria, including not being allowed to act on matters that directly pertain to the department that employs them.

Dickerson, Hills noted, recuses himself from votes or discussion regarding the Recreation Department.

Additionally, if a board member thinks that there could be the appearance of a conflict of interest for whatever reason, that person could file a disclosure with the town clerk’s office.

Hills said he did this once as a member of the Conservation Commission. While not a direct abutter to the property in question, he was just one property away. While he said this is the only time he’s filed a disclosure, he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to doing it more often.

“I don’t think there’s been a situation where it’s been a problem, but I’m open to suggestions,” he said. “I definitely don’t want a conflict of interest, or the appearance of one which is just as bad.”

Neither Marion or Mattapoisett currently have a similar bylaw, though Wareham prohibits elected officials to be employed by the town while in office. Additionally, elected officials must wait 30 days after leaving office before being eligible for town employment.