PARIS — The tradition of swearing in new officials at the annual town meeting will remain in effect after the Board of Selectmen discussed Monday the effect of a warrant article calling for members to be seated at a later date.
Selectmen who are elected in June have been sworn in after the close of the town meeting later in the month. In 1999, the town approved a warrant article calling for municipal officers to begin their three-year terms on July 1 of the year they are elected.
One accusation in a lawsuit filed against the town by former Town Manager Sharon Jackson is that the town did not abide by the article in 2009. Jackson is appealing the selectmen’s 3-2 decision last June to terminate her employment contract. In addition to charging illegal secret meetings of that board’s majority, the lawsuit says former Selectman Troy Ripley, who voted in favor of termination, should not have been seated until July 1. The board voted 3-2 along the same lines in October to ratify the June decision.
At Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, Chairman Raymond Glover proposed putting an article on the warrant to see if voters at the June 12 town meeting will rescind the 1999 article.
Selectman Ted Kurtz said this is not a good year to address the matter due to the pending lawsuit. He said a mediator in the matter could interpret any action on the 1999 article as the town acknowledging that it made a mistake.
“I’m saying that those of you who think we’ve got something we need to straighten out, let’s do it next year,” Kurtz said. “And the reason is because we’re tinkering with perceptions in the Sharon Jackson litigation.”
Glover said this is a unique year, since the board is short a member and it would be prudent to return to a five-member board as quickly as possible.
Selectman Glen Young resigned in March, and the board opted not to hold a special election to fill the vacancy due to the short period of time between then and the June election. Kurtz and former Selectman Ken West are the only two candidates who have taken out papers to run for the two seats opening on the board this year. Kurtz is looking to hold his own seat, while West is running for the vacant seat.
“If I know it’s there, I can’t ignore it. Because if we ignore it, it’s just going to stay on the books and that’s something that’s going to come back and haunt us,” Glover said. “If it’s meaningless, I propose we get it off the books.”
Kurtz said the town can apply state law to swear in newly elected selectmen after the town meeting. He said he was of the opinion that the town did not have the authority to put the 1999 regulation into place and therefore it is null and void.
A motion to add Glover’s proposed article to the warrant failed in a 2-2 tie. Glover and Selectman Lloyd “Skip” Herrick supported it, while Kurtz and Jean Smart were opposed.
Town Manager Phil Tarr said he would direct Town Clerk Elizabeth Knox to follow past practice in swearing in officials.
Smart said the town needs to be cautious in its approach to ordinances and other regulations that have been passed.
“We don’t want to start a precedence of sort of cherry-picking the ordinances and the decisions the citizens of Paris have made, the ones that fit our need at the present moment and discarding others,” she said. “I think that’s a slippery slope.”