Commentary: Town clerk/treasurer’s office—Is it time for a change?

In the February 25, 2016 issue of The Charlotte News, the town clerk/treasurer raised issues related to the proposed town charter and told us, “It’s important to listen to the majority – what does the Town want? […] Do you want one local election day in March to vote and decide all of our budgets or would you rather vote in March and April, splitting up the town and school budgets? This vote is important for everyone, think about what you want. I will be supporting the majority vote.”

On March 1, we went to the polls. We re-elected her and told her—by a 3-to-1 majority—that we want to be governed by the charter. We expected her to keep her promise and help make it work.

On April 3, Mike Yantachka advised Selectboard Chairman Lane Morrison, Lynne Jaunich (Town Charter Committee), and the clerk/treasurer that he had requested they be invited to testify on the charter before the House Government Operations Committee in Montpelier, but that they could decline.

Because she could not attend the April 8 hearing, the clerk/treasurer—in her capacity as our elected official—emailed her remarks to the committee on April 7. Instead of supporting “the majority vote,” she criticized the charter for reasons she asked us to consider in February—things we decided were not a basis for rejecting it—i.e., multiple elections in March and April, the volume of absentee ballots, and no set date for the second election—and she protested that it creates a “messy and cumbersome” election process.

But she didn’t stop there. Expressing her personal opinions, she complained about its effect on voter turnout, its lack of clarity and the Selectboard’s difficulty interpreting it—subjects completely beyond the scope of her duty to administer our elections. She even went so far as to urge the committee to reject the charter, arguing that, “A simple vote by Australian Ballot for the town budget can be accomplished without a charter and it should happen on Town Meeting Day along with all of the other budgets, articles and officer voting.” She did not make one positive statement in support of the charter and conveniently failed to acknowledge that 1,148 of Charlotte’s 1,551 voters disagreed with this opinion (goo.gl/LYs18T).

The April 11 Selectboard meeting confirmed that our clerk/treasurer did not share these remarks with any of our other elected officials. Thankfully, the committee’s assistant sent them to Mr. Yantachka, and our representatives were not caught unaware and off guard at the hearing. Due to this lucky happenstance, and despite the clerk/treasurer cloaking her conduct in secrecy, they successfully addressed her complaints and convinced all but one member to endorse the charter.

For 12 years, I have watched divisions in this town deepen as our politics turned decidedly more acrimonious. At every turn there has been one common lightening rod of dissension—the town clerk/treasurer—and her recent attempt to undermine the charter raises yet one more storm of controversy. Although her temperament and people-handling skills have been subjects of frequent criticism, and despite the fact that politeness is a political attribute, a good elected official does not have to be liked by everyone in the community. At the same time, it takes a lot more than simply performing the job well, which everyone agrees she has done, to be a responsible elected official.

Good elected officials keep their pre-election promises. Even more important, a responsible elected official must respect and be loyal to their constituents’ mandate. It is an absolutely fundamental requirement that when an elected official’s personal opinion collides with the will of the people, we the people have the right to expect that the views we voice at the ballot box—here by an overwhelming 3-to-1 majority—will not be challenged much less undermined by that elected official. Chapter 1, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution guarantees this by providing, “That all power being originally inherent in and consequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.”

After we voted for the charter, it was the clerk/treasurer’s duty and obligation—even without her pre-election promise—to support its passage in the Legislature and devote all her energies to making it successful despite her administrative concerns. For purposes of the legislative committee hearing, her “official” job was to convince committee members to endorse our charter, not give them reasons to veto it.  If her personal opinions prevented her from testifying positively in support of the majority of us, she should have said nothing at all—and she was given that option.

An elected clerk/treasurer who purposely seeks to thwart this town’s will does not merit the $9,000 raise she (already one of the highest paid clerk/treasurers of any comparably sized town in Vermont) is demanding in lieu of resigning. This town would function much more harmoniously and the tensions and factions dividing us as neighbors would not be continually publicly fanned if the Selectboard would reject her pay request and simply accept her resignation. No one is in dispensable, and concern that our town would be unable to function without her is like Chicken Little’s fear of a falling sky.

Jane McCullough
Pease Mountain Road
Charlotte

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  1. Pingback: Commentary: Clearing the air around the charter | The Charlotte News

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