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January 16, 2014

N.H. could make town clerks appointed

Proposed bill would change jobs from elected positions

New Hampshire town clerks are elected by the residents they serve.

But that could soon change.

Rep. David Bickford, R-New Durham, has proposed House Bill 1266, which would give towns the option of changing it from an elective to an appointed position.

Many town clerks oppose the idea.

“I don’t think it’s a smart idea at all,” Newton Town Clerk Mary-Jo McCullough said. “Selectmen would have control over everything, which is a big deal.”

Denise Gonyer, president of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerk’s Association, Tuesday expressed her views to Bickford and the rest of the House Municipal and County Government Committee.

“We believe the checks and balances of an elected official answering directly to the citizens is a necessary tool in self government,” she said.

Gonyer said the bill has been proposed several times in the past. The bill is based on a recommendation from the New Hampshire Municipal Association. The recommendation was made by selectmen and town administrators, according to Gonyer.

Cordell Johnston, who is on the Government Affairs Council with the N.H. Municipal Association, said finding residents who are qualified can be a problem.

“It happens occasionally that a town has serious trouble finding someone to run for the position,” he said. “With a town of 300 or 400 people, there’s a reasonable chance you won’t find someone qualified to fill the position.”

Johnston said clerks he’s spoken to don’t like to have to depend on the public to keep their jobs.

“Clerks don’t have to want to run to keep their job every year or three years,” Johnston said. “Look at city clerks. They are all appointed. Nobody’s ever had any trouble with that.”

But Gonyer said the proposal would give too much control to selectmen.

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