September 19, 2018

Taking treasurer choice out of voters’ hands

Observer photo by Jason Starr
Williston Town Clerk and Treasurer Deb Beckett works the polls during Tuesday’s primary election.

Administrators recommend making treasurer an appointed position

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

As Williston Town Clerk and Treasurer Deb Beckett mulls retirement when her current term expires in a year and a half, the selectboard is considering changing how her successor will be hired.

A proposal to make town treasurer an appointed position under the town manager instead of elected by town voters every three years — as it currently is — is one of a host of changes to the town’s charter recommended by town administrators. The recommendations will be up for discussion at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting, when board members will decide whether to schedule a public hearing on the charter change proposals.

Any changes to the town charter would require voter approval at Town Meeting Day.

Beckett, who has served as both town clerk and treasurer for nearly 20 years, is “leaning toward doing something completely different” when her current term expires in 2020. Her successor, she said, should be someone with demonstrated expertise in finance, rather than someone who can simply win an election.

The treasurer is responsible for managing approximately 40 town bank accounts, collecting fees, transferring money between accounts and signing off on town checks.

“There is just so much involved in banking and budgets today that you should have some background in it,” Beckett said. “It’s in the best interest of the town to have someone who you know is qualified in that position … If it is an elected position, you can have (someone with) absolutely no background in finance.”

Beckett, however, believes the position of town clerk should remain elected by voters every three years. The independence of being elected rather than hired by town officials keeps the clerk free from political influences, she said.

“The clerk has to be totally neutral without fear or favor of any person,” Beckett said as she oversaw Tuesday’s primary elections. In addition to serving as the town’s top election official, the town clerk is also responsible for managing land records, serving on the boards of abatement and civil authority, and fulfilling public records requests.

Beckett said there is countywide training for new municipal clerks, as well as support from the Vermont Secretary of State’s office that would help any newly elected clerk be successful.

However, the charter changes under consideration by the selectboard do create a provision to allow voters to change the clerk position from elected to appointed at some point in the future.

The charter changes also contemplate allowing voters to eliminate the positions of lister and constable, which are currently elected, but occasionally go unfilled for lack of candidates.

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