Israel: Town clerks should be appointed

Proposal is one of the issues that will go before voters at upcoming town meeting.

Mark Saloio is sworn in as police chief by Tisbury town clerk Hilary Conklin. Conklin opposes a plan to make her position appointed instead of elected. — George Brennan

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel wants future town clerks to be appointed rather than elected.

At the April 9 town meeting — technically a special town meeting within that meeting — voters will be asked to appoint town clerks beginning in 2023. That would give the town and the elected town clerk time to plan, Israel told his colleagues during a discussion Friday of what’s on the town meeting warrants.

Israel emphasized several times that this is not about town clerk Hillary Conklin’s performance. “I’ve been talking about this for a long time,” he said. “This is no reflection on our current clerk’s office, which is operating well.”

Israel said he’s spoken to Conklin, and she doesn’t support the idea, which she confirmed in an email to The Times.

“The sponsor of the article, Tristan Israel, and I are close friends, and have had many conversations about this subject,” she wrote. “This is not a concept that I can support, as I don’t support any position being changed from elected to appointed. At this time in our country, relieving the voters of their rights and responsibilities is not the direction I see our town heading in. In rare cases a clerk has been elected who may not be suited for the position, and the remedy has been a recall election.”

Conklin shared a document that features 10 reasons why a clerk, who oversees town and other elections, should remain elected. The No. 1 reason on that list is to avoid cronyism. “They have a sensitive role in the administration of elections and town meetings that would be ill-served by being beholden to those who are seeking re-election,” the document states.

Israel said a town with a budget of $28 million needs the assurance that the clerk is professional and capable of dealing with technology.

Edgartown has made the switch to an appointed clerk.

Selectman Melinda Loberg said the consequences of having someone who does the job incorrectly can be harmful to the town. She said the clerk’s job requires “a very specialized knowledge base.”

Loberg asked that the town explore whether Conklin could be “grandfathered into the position.”

At the rare Friday meeting, selectmen voted unanimously to close both the town meeting and special town meeting warrants. Voters will set the town’s budget, and decide whether to put as many as four ballot questions before voters for Proposition 2½ overrides to pay for improvements to the town’s wastewater system, DPW road and sidewalk projects, and two questions having to do with the future of the Tisbury School. Selectmen weren’t completely sold on the DPW spending plan for next year, which would take $600,000 from town reserves and ask voters to borrow $1 million. Prior to their ballot question discussion, they asked the DPW director to go through the projects currently underway and when they would be completed. They also asked if voters supported the full funding, whether the DPW could realistically get to all of the projects.

Tuesday night, at a continuation of their deliberation on the warrant, the board hashed out the funding article with DPW director Ray Tattersall, and opted to forego a Proposition 2½ override on paving and sidewalk work and keep the monetary request to $600,000. After debate with education leaders including the superintendent of schools, the school committee chairman, and the Tisbury School principal, the board maintained an $800,000 Proposition 2½ override in Article 9, which calls for the funds to facilitate “project manager services, architectural, design, engineering, cost estimating, bidding,” and other services relative to potential work on the Tisbury School. However, the selectmen voted to modify the article to include a provision for unspecified “extraordinary” emergency repairs based on an environmental report reviewed by the school committee but only presented to the board and town administrator Jay Grande at the meeting. The day following the meeting, Grande said he had yet to read the report, and that an article modification for such an unspecified figure was very rare. He further said he believed the modification would be subject to review by town counsel. As part of the overall warrant approval, the board also voted to approve $650,000 for wastewater improvements and $297,646 for Tisbury’s portion of a feasibility study and schematic design for a high school rebuild or renovation.

On Friday, Tattersall reviewed this year’s projects, which include the $416,000 Center Street drainage project.

Israel asked if the project would be completed before the busy summer season. Tattersall said it would.

The board also had a brief discussion about a proposal to make Oak Hill Avenue a dead end to force traffic to enter a commercial area by State Road. Because this is a petition article by Jeremie Rogers, the son of selectman Jim Rogers, Jim Rogers left the room for the discussion.

Ultimately, Israel and Loberg decided to amend the article on the advice of town administrator Jay Grande to send the proposal to the DPW, traffic roadway and safety committee, and planning board to work collaboratively on whether the idea is feasible.

Once again, the board had a lengthy discussion about the Housing Bank proposal to use 50 percent of the tax collected from short-term rentals. None of the selectmen support the idea, saying it’s hastily put together and not fully vetted. They’ve sent a letter to state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, to that effect.

But on the advice of Loberg, the board will be ready to amend the article at town meeting if it appears voters are in favor of giving the town “more flexibility on how money is allocated.”

Israel criticized the governance of the Housing Bank, saying small towns like Aquinnah should not carry the same voting weight as down-Island towns like Tisbury, where the population is larger.

“I’m not in the mood to endorse any part of it,” Rogers said.

While Israel said the idea of a Housing Bank is not the problem, there should be a longer-term discussion.

Housing Bank advocates have said they’re concerned if the money goes into the general funds of towns, it would be difficult to make any changes in the future.

“I hope it gets defeated, and then that group will come back and have a dialogue,” Israel said.


  1. Has anyone contacted Google maps or the ride sharing companies about Oak Hill Avenue? Eliminating it as a route would surely cut down the traffic.

  2. Hey MV Times. This isn’t the 60’s. It’s literally decades past time to switch to gender neutral titles.It makes you look sexist and anachronistic when you refer to women as men.

    • Liberlism is a disease. Freedom is decaying under the guise of “inclusion” and “diversity”. It does not make themook sexist or anachronistic. It makes them look like journalists without an insane agenda. Check you rage.

  3. Don’t do it Tisbury!!
    No government official should be encouraging its citizens to give up their vote!
    Not for anyone, at anytime!
    Do not allow your voice to be quieted!
    Never allow anyone to take away your right to vote, only to hand the choice over to government!

  4. Israel said a town with a budget of $28 million needs the assurance that the clerk is professional and capable of dealing with technology. This is what the voters are for. I didn’t see Tristan proposing changes through all those years of him getting elected as Selectmen. With a budget of $28 million, the position of Selectmen is the position that needs to have a true professional. I would also add that I have known our current Town Clerk and that office to be one of the most professional offices we have. Always courteous, professional, and helpful.

    We’ve done a good job as voters, sometimes better than others have as appointees and I see no reason to change anything at this time. Why is it that we always want to make changes to things that require no change?

  5. Under Tristian Tisbury became the tax capital of the Island. High taxes means poor management.

Comments are closed.