Townspeople in Cushing debated Feb. 22 whether to reduce the number of selectmen from five to three.

Residents will have the following question on their ballot at the polls March 15: “Shall the town vote to reduce the number of selectmen from five to three and to be accomplished by the removal of seat number four and seat number five at the annual town meeting of the year 2011?”

Seats four and five are occupied by Daniel Staples and Chairman Alton Grover.

The issue was placed on the ballot due to a citizen initiative petition circulated by David Glidden. The board changed from three members to five in 2005.

“The town only needs three selectmen,” Glidden said at the hearing. “With five selectmen it takes up a lot of extra time.” He also said it would save a small amount of money.

Others argued that having five selectmen offers a chance for more viewpoints to be represented, and having only three selectmen means a concentration of power. Some said that having only three selectmen could mean having two selectmen who agree and a third who is inactive, or having two clashing selectmen with one serving as a swing vote between them.

David Cobey said he has lived in the town for 20 years. He said that when he started going to selectmen’s meetings it was a three-member board and there was no notice of the town’s business posted. He added that it took a while for him to be offered a chair. He said at that time there was no opportunity for public input.

He said that he presented the petition to go from three to five selectmen to town meeting, and that the five-selectman format has served the town well.

Cobey argued for keeping government open to the public and avoiding “back room” government.

“I think it’s in our interest to keep a five-person board,” he said.

One person said the town could save money by reducing selectmen’s salaries rather than eliminating selectman positions.

“It’s the quality of the people that you put on the board, not the number of selectmen,” Selectman Robert Worthing said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

This same issue was debated at length at the March town meeting in 2004. Residents voted at that meeting to change from having three selectmen to having five and to consider a town manager form of government. The change went into effect in 2005.

The article on the warrant at that town meeting actually called for a town manager. Cobey, who had circulated a petition to bring the issue to town meeting, said his petition never called for a town manager. That was added by selectmen, he said.

Glidden, who was a selectman at the time, apologized to Cobey, saying he changed the intent of Cobey’s petition. He added, however, that Cobey’s petition, which had 25 signatures, did not have enough to meet legal requirements.

Cobey said at the time that he had asked how many signatures he needed and was told by selectmen he needed 25. He said he believed selectmen did not want the article passed.

Bob Garcia said at that meeting he believed the town manager aspect was put into the article as a “poison pill” to make residents vote it down.

Others strongly opposed the article, saying Cushing should remain a small town.

Residents proposed changing the article and were told by selectmen that it was illegal to make any substantive change to the language of the item. Moderator Frank Muddle allowed residents to amend the article, however, to say the town would change from three to five selectmen and consider a town manager form of government.

This year residents will decide whether to uphold the vote of 2004 or change back to three selectmen.

The election will be held Monday, March 15 from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Cushing Community Center.

Town meeting will be held Tuesday, March 16 at 7 p.m. at the Cushing Community Center.

 

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