By Cary Shuman
Leighanne Strangie is the new Clerk to the Winthrop Town Council after winning election to the position at a Council meeting Tuesday night.
Strangie received five votes to gain the majority needed to secure the part-time position that pays an annual stipend of $5,200.
Councilor Paul Varone cast the decisive fifth vote for Strangie on the third ballot. Councillors Linda Calla, Russell Sanford, Larry Powers, and Nicholas DelVento had voted for Strangie, giving her a 4-3 edge over Carolann Buchman heading into Varone’s vote. Varone then made it 5-3 for Strangie before Council President Jeffrey Turco voted for Buchman to finalize the 5-4 tally.
Also voting for Buchman were Councillors Jeanne Maggio, Philip Boncore, and James Letterie.
Two others finalists, Joanna Darcy and Georgeanne DaCosta, were eliminated from consideration on the first two ballots.
A council subcommittee consisting of councilors Sanford, Powers, and Maggio had recommended the four finalists for the position.
Tuesday night’s final vote was preceded by a discussion about whether the appointment should be a 90-day provisional one, meaning the new clerk’s performance would be reviewed after a 90-day trial period.
Turco sought a legal opinion from town counsel Kopelman and Paige and was told that “we [the Council] could, in fact, do a 90-day trial if we so chose.”
Sanford, chairman of the subcommittee, said, “My rationale at the interviews for consideration of the 90-day appointment was just to get a sense of how well that person would work with the council and give them an opportunity to see what they’re up against, working with the town and with us.”
DelVento questioned whether the Council would have to conduct another vote after the 90-day trial period.
Turco replied that if the Council were to vote for a 90-day trial period, the matter would be placed on the agenda for a second vote for the appointment prior to the 90-day period elapsing.
Powers noted that during the interviews all the candidates “said they were fine” with a 90-day trial period.
Varone asked his colleagues, “My only question is that at the end of the 90 days, if either the council or the individual that wins this evening chooses not to continue employment, who do we then appoint – the runnerup? Or do we start a new process all over again?”
Boncore sought to curtail the controversy building over the 90-day trial period and as it turned out, he was effective in accomplishing that goal.
“I don’t think I’m in favor of the 90-day appointment,” said Boncore. “The charter says if we hire someone, we hire them for a three-year term. If that person can’t do the job or they leave, then we’re going to have to hire someone else. I don’t think 90 days is really enough time to give someone to learn a job, get comfortable in the job and start doing the job to the best of their ability.”
Letterie agreed with Boncore. “We make a decision and live with it,” said Letterie. “To look at a 90-day trial in the job sector, that’s about 48-53 days of work. Here a 90-day trial is 12 days of work. It’s the equivalent to about a two-year period as a council clerk if you look at two meetings a month. I just think we make a decision and we go on to other business.”
Sanford made a motion to hire a new clerk to the council for a 90-day provisional period and then hold another vote for a three-year appointment.
“I’m going have to ask the chair to rule the motion out of order,” said Boncore. “The charter specifically says that the town council shall elect a clerk of the council to serve for a term of three years. I don’t think there’s anything in the charter that gives us the authority to do at-will provision. I happen to disagree with [town counsel] Betsy Lane and her [legal] opinion.”
Turco ultimately accepted Boncore’s reasoning, ruling the motion “out of order.”
Turco also ruled that the eventual appointee [Leighanne Strangie] would serve out the remainder (2 1/2 years) of the existing three-year term of former Clerk Carla Vitale.