HARWICH – The three candidates vying for the three-year term as town clerk sought to win votes in the recent voter information committee forum moderated by the League of Women Voters.
The candidates – Jannell Brown, Shelagh Delaney and Emily Mitchell – made their pitch to about 50 attendees in the town hall hearing room and to a viewing audience on Channel 18.
In her opening statement, Brown, 51, emphasized her long ties to the community, noting that she was born and raised in Harwich and is a 14th generation Cape Codder. She is a graduate of Harwich High School and has a pre-medical degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She emphasized her three years spent on the board of selectmen and her 27 years as a small business owner.
Delaney, 68, said she moved to Harwich 36 years ago. Her education includes a legal degree from the Massachusetts School of Law, time she spent practicing law, and her eight years working in the town’s community development department. Delaney is currently serving as executive assistant in the town clerk’s office.
Mitchell, 28, was also born and raised in Harwich, graduated from Harwich High School, and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Providence College. She spent a year in law school at Cornell University. Mitchell said her passion and energy for local government was fostered by government teacher Richard Houston at HHS. Her more than four years as council on aging director has given her great budget, personnel, and management experience preparing her for the town clerk position, she said.
“People are my forte,” Brown said, referring to her experience as a selectman in representing the entire community. She also said her three years on the board provided an opportunity to work with town departments.
Brown said she is not fully experienced in the details of local elections, but said she is a person of detail and a quick learner. She has the endorsement of former Town Clerk Anita Doucette, who has committed to assist her, she said. Her time on the board of selectmen, and her two years of paralegal studies at Cape Cod Community College have provided her with a background in Massachusetts General Laws, she added.
If elected as town clerk, Brown said the absence of two longtime employees in the office would be the biggest concern.
Brown agreed there need to be improvements to the town clerk’s website and said she would work with the town’s voter information committee to shape innovative ideas to get young voters and people in general more involved in the community.
There needs to be more communication between the town clerk and board of selectmen about making sure the people appointed to boards and committees are well versed in the Open Meeting Law, said Brown. New committee members also need to understand the charges governing committees. While Brown touted her management experience through her private business, she admitted to not having a lot of experience in shaping a department budget or direct experience with the state procurement law.
“But I’m a quick learner,” she said.
Delaney said her law degree, an ability to research and interpret state law, and her eight years of experience working in the town’s community development department were a “perfect blend” for preparing her for the town clerk’s position.
She emphasized the need to upgrade the town clerk’s website, explaining it is not as interactive and accessible as it should be. The town clerk is the public records access officer and there is a need to streamline access to information, she said. Dog licenses should be accessible online, she added. As for compliance with the Open Meeting Law, Delaney said her seven years of working as a board of appeals secretary and assisting with other committees has provided her with knowledge of the law. If elected town clerk, she said she would establish a training manual for secretaries defining the specific way to file meeting postings and minutes. She would also improve digital access to information, requiring no more than two clicks to access town clerk information.
Speaking of budget and procurement knowledge, Delaney said she has not had as much municipal experience as she would like, but she did budgeting and worked with procurement during her private business experiences.
As for experience running elections, Delaney said there are boot camps for new town clerks and she would work with the board of registrars and volunteers to gain experience. She also said she was in contact with other town clerks and had gone over election details with them.
“The council on aging position translates well into this position,” said Mitchell, currently the agency's director. There is a wide variety of services required of her in the COA director position. The pandemic required adjustments in policy for her to serve the town well and it “strengthened my abilities.”
Over the past four years as director of the COA, Mitchell said she has worked with full and part-time, transportation employees and volunteers, a diverse group, and it has taught her how to manage and facilitate the needs of the department.
Speaking of her knowledge of running elections, Mitchell said she would have three to four months to learn the specifics required. The functions are well defined in Massachusetts General Law, she added.
Mitchell said her experience with the COA has given her a good understanding of the Open Meeting Law, having had to meet the requirements on behalf of the COA. She said additional training may be necessary to make sure people serving on committees know how to comply, and have the tools to address the OML. If elected, Mitchell said she would attend at least one meeting a year of boards and committees to get to know the people serving the community.
As for her experience with municipal budgeting and procurement, Mitchell said she prepares a $600,000 budget annually for the COA, which is a little less than the town clerk’s budget, adding that she has extensive experience with procurement.
Voters will go to the polls at the community center on Tuesday, May 17 to choose a new town clerk. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.