New charter takes hold; Select Board to plan transition

With a majority having voted for its adoption at Town Election last week, Harvard’s new charter is now the town’s governing document. Its authority is immediate, transferring new powers to the selectmen and town administrator, activating deadlines for implementing its provisions, and posing new challenges for the town’s executive board, to be known now as Harvard’s Select Board.

Under the charter’s transitional provisions, the most urgent task of the Select Board is to prepare a plan showing how they will fulfill their new obligations, including budgeting, volunteer appointments, and preparation of a vision and strategic plan for the town. The charter gives them 90 days. Meantime the moderator-elect, Bill Barton, has 45 days to appoint a seven-member committee to review the town’s existing bylaws and recommend how to bring them into conformity with the charter. Where there are differences, the provisions of the charter will prevail. The committee must report its recommendations at next year’s Annual Town Meeting. Those interested in serving should send an application to jdoucet@harvard.ma.us by June 15.

A number of charter changes could be seen at work during Tuesday evening’s Select Board meeting, its first since Town Election. The board will meet at Shaker Hills Country Club, Monday, June 4, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., to hold its annual strategic planning session, but this year the new charter will top its agenda.

Among its new powers and duties, conducting “a fully integrated strategic planning process” is high on the list. The charter calls for the process to incorporate the town’s Master Plan, capital investment plan, and the five-year plan prepared by the Finance Committee, resulting in a statement of goals and a charge to other town agencies. The report is due 60 days after each annual town meeting.

But in an appearance during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, Worth Robbins of Mass. Ave. urged the board not to rush the process. Robbins, a co-owner of the Press and author of the petition that led to election of a Charter Commission, told the board that oversight of the town’s strategic plan was, in his view, its most important task. He urged the board members to consider appointing a special committee to do the work, one that would reach out to all of Harvard’s stakeholders to determine what the community wanted. “I didn’t think the charter would pass,” but its passage demonstrated “an appetite for change,” Robbins said.

‘There’s a lot of energy’

Harvard’s 2002 Devens Focus Group, of which Robbins had been a member, was a model for how to create a comprehensive approach to a complex problem, deciding Harvard’s role in the disposition of Devens, he said. “My suggestion is that you consider the same kind of approach,” he said. “There’s a lot of energy out there; take advantage of it.” As the Select Board planned for its June session, a variety of more immediate changes could be seen at work:

The charter creates the position of director of community and economic development, but leaves it up to the Select Board to decide whether to fill it. Bragan told the board Tuesday that the full-time planner position approved by Annual Town Meeting could be enhanced to include the additional duties specified for a development director. Bragan said he and Planning Board Chairwoman Erin McBee were working with the Personnel Board to create such a job description. Town Counsel Mark Lanza, he said, had confirmed that upgrading the planner position would be within the scope of Article 11, which created a full-time town planner position. But that decision is now the Select Board’s to make. Human Resources Director Marie Sobalvarro said she hopes to provide the board the information it needs to make a decision at its next regular meeting, Tuesday, May 22. The contract of Harvard’s current part-time planner expires June 10.

Twenty-nine open positions

Twenty-nine positions on town committees remain to be filled, according to a list distributed by Executive Assistant Julie Doucet. Among them is a seat on the Parks and Recreation Commission left open by the resignation just after Town Caucus of Frank Culmone. As a formerly elected board, filling the vacant seat will require a four-fifths vote of the Select Board.

In a sign of his enhanced appointing authority, Town Administrator Tim Bragan at Tuesday’s meeting announced the hiring of Matt Callahan, a 22-year veteran of the Ayer Police Department, to fill an open slot in Harvard’s Police Department. Under the charter, Bragan, in consultation with the Personnel Board, can fill most town positions, except for school and library employees and firefighters.

Finally, on Tuesday, the Select Board, with four of five members present, voted to offer Bragan a new three-year contract, details of which were not immediately available to the Press. While the contract expires in three years, his appointment does not. Under the terms of the charter, it is indefinite.

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