HARWICH — Voters in town meeting in May will be asked to adjust the way they set the salary for the town clerk.
The town has been making adjustments to its classification and compensation plan for department heads over the past three years under an agreement with the Service Employees International Union. A similar non-union classification system is being proposed for the clerk position.
Whether this will lead to conversion of the position from elected to appointed it not certain, though that appears to be the trend among Cape towns.
As part of that process, Town Clerk Anita Doucette and Department of Public Works Director Lincoln Hooper made a request to look at their non-union department head positions as well. Doucette said while she is elected, she runs a department and should be treated in the same manner as other department heads under the classification and compensation plan.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark said Doucette came to him and pointed out every other department head is under the classification and compensation plan. “She asked to be put through the system and this is what came out of it,” Clark said of the change in the manner of compensation for the town clerk that will be brought to town meeting in May. Similar to the classification and step system in place for department heads, the town is proposing to establish a non-union classification system for the town clerk based on tenure.
The decision was based on examination of compensation levels for town clerks on the Cape and has taken into consideration the 26 years Doucette has served as town clerk. She is the third longest tenured town clerk in the town's history, next to Nathaniel Stone, Jr. who served for 35 years beginning in 1742, and Chillingsworth Foster, who served for 28 years before Stone. Doucette is currently the longest serving town clerk on the Cape.
After conducting his own review, including a market rating study, Interim Assistant Town Administrator Robert Lawton, acting on a recommendation from Finance Director Carol Coppola, recommended the position be placed on a Harwich Non-Union Compensation Schedule at M-5 with a range of up to $92,490. He stated in a memo to the town administrator the grade is similar to most town clerk salary ranges on the Cape.
The finance committee approved the salary range last Thursday night. The M-5 schedule carries a salary range between $75,910 and $94,803 depending upon the assigned step. Doucette's salary in FY18 is $76,905.
If this approach is approved, Clark said experience will be weighed when slotting the starting salary of a new town clerk when Doucette leaves the position. He said if a new town clerk has little to no experience, he or she would start at step one, but someone with five to seven years experience might start at step five. So someone who challenges an incumbent to the elected position with less experience, should they win, would likely be paid less than what the incumbent was paid.
The change to the new classification schedule for the town clerk raised a few questions relative to the town having an elected town clerk or an appointive one. Doucette said the issue was raised in the finance committee meeting on Thursday night.
“I haven't had any sense to do that or that we should be moving in that direction,” Clark said of making the position appointed.
“It does lay the groundwork to head in that direction,” added Doucette.
Doucette is up for re-election to another three-year term next year and said she is considering running for one more time. A change from an elected town clerk to an appointed one would take two years because of the need to change the town charter.
That decision is up to the town, Doucette said, but she added she wants to leave the town in the best position possible. She emphasized that the position is a professional one.
Cape towns are nearly split on having elected and appointive town clerks. Barnstable, Eastham, Falmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Mashpee and Sandwich have elective positions. Brewster, Chatham, Orleans, Provincetown and Wellfleet have appointive positions. Bourne and Truro were not included in the survey. Truro's town clerk also serves as the treasurer/tax collector, Doucette said. Mashpee is the only other municipality on the Cape that has an elected town clerk who functions under a non-union compensation schedule, she said.
The trend is going toward an appointed position, Doucette said, adding that Eastham is moving in that direction. But there are no colleges that teach how to become a town clerk, she said, and the position is often filled by people who served as a town clerk elsewhere or as an assistant clerk.
Doucette is an internationally certified and state certified town clerk and was recognized by the International Institute of Municipal Clerk's last year for her 25 years of service. She has also been invited to teach a leadership class this summer at the New England Principal Clerk's Institute and Academy.
There will also be salary increases for other elective positions on the warrant this year. The salaries article recommends selectmen get an increase from $1,500 to $2,400; moderator from $300 to $1,000; water commissioners $500 to $1,000; and the seven library trustees would for the first time receive $1,000 each.
As for Hooper's request, the town upgraded the non-union compensation plan adding grades M-8 and M-9, slotting Hooper at the M-9 step 5, which will provide an increase in salary for FY19 from $116,014 to $118,278.