By Sue Ellen Woodcock
This year’s election season has brought out a healthy number of candidates, with four people vying for the seat of Town Council president.
The candidates going for the seat of Town Council president are Councilor-at-Large Rich Boyajian, School Committee member and former selectman Ron Vecchia, former Council President Jeff Turco and Town Transportation Committee member Christopher Aiello.
Whoever is elected to the position will hold one of the most powerful positions in town.
“It’s important to think of the whole town and not special interests,” said former council President Peter Gill.
According to the town charter the council president is, “The executive authority of the town shall be vested in the council president. The council president shall be responsible to see that the charter, the laws, the ordinances and other orders for the government of the town are properly implemented and enforced.”
Thomas Reilly, was the first and only Town Council president when the town adopted its new charter in 2005, changing the form of government from a board of selectmen to a town manager run government. He recommended the hiring of Town Manager James McKenna.
“You’ve got to question and understand the position,” Reilly said. “The council president’s duty is to ensure the procedures are followed properly. That’s a minimum requirement.”
Turco, an attorney, was council president from 2010 to 2011.
Gill served for four year-terms from 2011 to 2014, heading up the nine-member Town Council said there were occasions he would go back to the town charter and read the definition of council president. Before he ran for council president he studied the charter and the position.
“There were some surprises but it was a rewarding position,” Gill said.
Russ Sanford is the current council president. He inherited the role when Council President Robert Driscoll Jr. abruptly resigned May 23, citing a flattened tire and “an element in town that is negative and violent.”
Sanford has been holding his own, he even took out papers to run for the office, but he later decided not to run for council president or his former Ward 5 seat.
The town’s charter defines the council president’s role and part of the role is to also to serve on the School Committee. Other duties include presiding over the Town Council, and appoint members and officers of Town Council committees.
Gill, who is enjoying his retirement and his grandchildren, advised anyone who becomes council president that “it’s important to listen to all sides and realize you can’t please everyone.”
Another important factor in the position is the time commitment the council president makes. Not only the time serving at a council meeting. There is also the spot on the School Committee where many feel the town and the schools can work collaboratively. There are also other committee meetings, public events and homework on various issues.
“It’s a serious time-commitment and you get paid $5,200 as council president while the other councilors get $2,600 a year,” Reilly said, adding that the president is in no way to get involved in the daily operation of the town. That is for the town manager.
Sanford agreed the time commitment is big, and the next council president will have to deal with helping to find a town manager to replace Jim McKenna, who is moving on the teach.
“The number of hours can be demanding, and in January (after the election), the council will have to be brought up to speed to keep the momentum of previous councils going,” Sanford said.
Reilly believes that the town is in good shape and whoever takes over as council president and town manager will have a good foundation.
“The person who is elected for council president will be in a much stronger position due to the work Russ has done in the past few months,” Reilly said.