Town Clerk and assistant retiring due to lack of staff

Apr 11, 2023

Town Clerk Michele Bissonnette and Assistant Town Clerk Donna Rhodes are retiring due to a lack of staffing in their office.

Bissonnette, 62, said that she is resigning due to the VOTES Act, which then-Governor Charlie Baker signed into law in June 2022. The law allows for no-excuse mail-in voting throughout Massachusetts and expands early voting options.

“It puts too much pressure on an office that we don’t have much staff [at] to begin with,” Bissonnette said. “We can’t keep up with the integrity of elections without having the help.”

There are 19,000 registered voters in Wareham, but only “two and a half” people in the town clerk’s office to count their votes — Bissonnette, Rhodes and a part-time secretary.

In January, Bissonnette told the Select Board that preparing and processing mail-in ballots is “very, very difficult” due to the lack of staff.

Her last day of work is scheduled for Thursday, June 1, truncating a term that would have lasted until 2025. Rhodes declined to comment. Her last day will be Thursday, May 18.

Bissonnette said that she is not the only town clerk who is overwhelmed by the requirements of the VOTES Act. Doing a “quick survey” of state town clerks, she found that 21 are leaving the position before the end of the year, and five are “on the fence.”

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said that Bissonnette announced her retirement in January due to “the increasing demands put on the position.”

“This is not unusual,” he said. “We’ve seen it recently happen in other communities.”

Bissonnette was first elected as town clerk in 2019, and won reelection in 2022. She previously spent 12 years as assistant town clerk in Marion. 

In 2021, changes to Wareham’s Town Charter made town clerk an appointed position, not an elected one. Since changes to the Charter must be approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor, Bissonnette was to serve the entirety of her term before the role became appointed.

The position of town clerk is currently listed as open on the town website. The town has been accepting applications since Wednesday, March 29.

“I hope they don’t have too hard of a time,” Bissonnette said about her replacement.

Department Assistant Shayne Martin will replace Rhodes as assistant town clerk.

After retiring, Bissonnette will go to work in the office of Chapman Funerals & Cremations in Marstons Mills. 

“Ms. Bissonnette did a great job and will be missed,” Sullivan said.