New Town Clerk optimistic about counting mail-in ballots

May 15, 2023

Auburn Town Clerk Debra A. Gremo has been chosen to replace outgoing Wareham Town Clerk Michele Bissonnette, Town Administrator Derek Sullivan announced on Thursday, May 11.

Gremo, who has served as town clerk in Auburn for nine years, applied for the job because she wanted “change, new opportunities and challenges.”

“It’s a very nice community,” she said of Wareham, which is slightly larger than Auburn. “I’m going to bring my experience and knowledge to Wareham.” 

Her first day on the job will be Monday, June 5. 

Gremo was chosen out of a field of 25 candidates interviewed by Sullivan, Bissonnette, Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside and Assistant Town Administrator and Human Resources Director Dorene Allen-England. Sullivan made the final decision to appoint Gremo, and the Select Board ratified his choice.

“We were looking for someone who had the knowledge and the experience,” Allen-England said. “Debra’s extremely personable. She will be a great fit and serve the residents well.”

“She’s a smart cookie,” Bissonnette said about her replacement, “and she’s very competent at what she does.”

Bissonnette announced her retirement in April, saying that the job had gotten too stressful due to a lack of staffing and the passage of the VOTES Act in 2022, which expanded early and mail-in voting in local elections.

Town clerks across the state are resigning or planning to resign, saying that they cannot handle the added workload of preparing and counting mail-in votes on top of their regular duties.

At the time, Bissonnette said that, counting herself, there were “two and a half people” in her office. Now that part-time Assistant Town Clerk Shyne Martin is working full-time, the staffing shortage is over. However, Bissonnette still plans to retire due to the stress of the job.

“What the new law has in store would be very, very difficult for clerks to deal with,” she said. “It puts an undue stress upon their offices.” 

Gremo was optimistic that she and her staff will be able to count the votes, no matter how long it takes. 

“I don’t want to say it isn’t an issue,” she said, “because there’s a lot of work to it,” but “with good election workers and good staff, we can get it done.” 

Assistant Town Clerk Donna Rhodes is also retiring. Martin will take over for her.