‘Sleight of hand’ government?

Marlborough Town Board debates appointment process

By Katherine Donlevy
Posted 1/27/21

If you want to serve on the Town of Marlborough Planning Board, you probably won’t be able to apply until 2023.

As part of efforts to better stagger member appointments across the Planning …

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‘Sleight of hand’ government?

Marlborough Town Board debates appointment process

Posted

If you want to serve on the Town of Marlborough Planning Board, you probably won’t be able to apply until 2023.

As part of efforts to better stagger member appointments across the Planning Board’s five-year terms, two of its members would be automatically appointed for a single-year term if they choose to remain in their positions. The decision was reached by the Town Board at its Jan. 25 meeting after a lengthy discussion on the ethics and logistics, though an official resolution won’t be drafted and passed until the February meeting.

“This is an appointed position that represents the constituents of the town,” said Councilman Allan Keonig. “I don’t like the fact that we’re waiving something that, to me, is part of democracy. Maybe somebody wants to put their letter in. I’m not saying they’re going to get it, but it kind of puts them out.”

Keonig shared concern that the Marlborough community would view the suggested two automatic one-year reappointments as “sleight of hand government.” Fellow Councilman Scott Corcoran agreed that interviews should be conducted for every position that pops up, but the two ultimately found that the unique waiver was necessary to fix the term struggles facing the Planning Board: that four of the seven members require reappointments or replacements in the same year, most recently in 2020.

To stagger the appointments more evenly, the board found a formula in which one board members’ term would conclude a year across five years. In the sixth and seventh years, two members’ terms would be up. In order to accomplish this, two current members were required to cut their terms short. The Town Board included the one-year waivers to board members Manny Cauchi, whose term will now end in December 2021, and Bob Tronchillito, whose term will end the following year.

Other board members will follow suit, with Steven Clarke in 2023, James Garofalo and Cindy Lanzetta in 2024 and Joe Lofaro and Chairperson Chris Brand in 2025.

The board agreed to go along with the waiver if the incoming resolution contains a clause noting that it is a one-time choice and won’t be utilized again.

The Town Board also was in favor of maintaining the five-year term limits, though town code could allow terms for a seven-person panel to be extended to seven years, an idea Councilman Howard Baker was in favor of.

“They have a seven year term: you peel off one person every year. That’s where you grow and rejuvenate,” he argued. “It’s the practice we had for a long time. I don’t know that it didn’t work. I don’t know what we’re trying to fix by doing the five years.”

Councilmembers Corcoran and Koenig presented the case that seven years is not a fast enough turn around. A shorter term offers board members the opportunity to step down when they wish and before becoming too fatigued, as well as the opportunity for interested community members to throw their hat in the ring, they argued. It would also “keep things fresh.”

“Five years is a long time, let’s face it. Seven years is even longer. The way the world moves, especially nowadays, seven years is a stretch to be in any appointed or political position, period,” Koenig said, noting that the standing Planning Board is excellent and efficient, but can not be expected to last forever. “If we ever did get a stagnant board or a board that was just laissez faire about everything and wanted to blow off meetings and didn’t want to do anything — you’re kind of stuck with those people.”

At its own meeting the week before, the Planning Board briefly discussed the issue and mentioned their reference for seven year terms, which was relayed to the Town Board via email. Baker, a frequent Planning Board meeting attender and liaison, continued to rally for the longer terms, but was unsuccessful.

“Now we’re going against the wishes of the Planning Board,” he said. “I still think seven is the neatest way to do it.”

The Town Board did not officially vote on the resolution that would stagger term appointments or would maintain the five year terms, but plans to do so at its next meeting.

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