Clerk, chairman choices contentious for selectmen

Jul 1, 2020

The Board of Selectmen met in person on Tuesday night for the first time in months, and were joined by newly-elected Selectmen Judith Whiteside. Masked and separated by plexiglass panels, the board held a meeting that felt strangely normal.

Each year, the positions of clerk and chairman are chosen by the board following the annual Town Election.

For the past 14 months (due to the pandemic-delayed election), Patrick Tropeano has served as chairman and Mary Mackey served as clerk.

Traditionally, the positions have rotated through the selectmen: The prior year’s clerk would become the new chairman, and another selectmen would become the clerk.

Mackey chose not to run for reelection, so, to follow the pattern, Whiteside would be the new chair because she filled Mackey’s seat. Mackey filled the seat vacated by Whiteside. 

Following the pattern, Jim Munise would become the clerk. 

The tradition is meant to be fair to all members of the board and to ensure that selectmen learn from serving as clerk before assuming the role of chairman. 

Instead, Whiteside nominated Peter Teitelbaum for the role of chairman, seconded by Tropeano. 

Citing the failure to follow the established tradition, Alan Slavin voted against Teitelbaum’s appointment, while the rest of the board voted for it.

Tropeano then nominated Whiteside to serve as clerk, and was seconded by Teitelbaum.

Munise objected, saying that the board was breaking with precedent and that he felt he should have the chance to serve as clerk. 

“I see no reason why I could not be clerk and perform the duties, because otherwise I’m not going to have the opportunity to learn some of the intricacies of what the clerk does and hopefully ascend to chair the next year,” Munise said, adding that the board has followed that precedent for many years.

Teitelbaum said that Munise was right about the unwritten tradition and said his decision to back Whiteside was a “tremendously difficult personal decision.” Teitelbaum said his decision has to do “with the fact that we have an extremely inexperienced person in the office” -- referring to the board’s administrative assistant -- and cited Whiteside’s past experience as clerk and as an educator.

“The tension here is between what we should do for you that is fair as a selectmen that was elected to the board, and what’s best for the town,” Teitelbaum said. 

Munise pointed out that Mackey was green when she came into the clerkship, and said that he hoped the board didn’t revert to tradition next year. 

Whiteside was elected clerk by a 3-2 vote, with Munise and Slavin voting no.