Graffeo Has Wasted No Time Making Changes to Town Clerk's Office
Efficiency, cross-training at the top of her priority list.
When Denise Graffeo was running for office, she promised there would be significant changes in how the Town Clerk's Office operated if she were elected.
Two months after unseating incumbent Maryanne Nichols in a three-way race, Graffeo has already put her stamp on the office and has promised more changes to come.
Two of the more visible changes Graffeo has made have to do with fees and the the Open Meeting law.
Graffeo, who previously served as assistant town clerk and has worked in the office for seven years, has eliminated the fee associated with notarising documents. It is now a free service of the Town Clerk's Office. In addition, Graffeo is not taking advantage of a state law, which allows a town clerk to keep a portion of dog licenses and sporting licenses (hunting and fishing).
"One-hundred percent of the fees for dog licenses and sporting licenses is going to the town now," she said.
Graffeo says she has also taken a more pro-active role to make sure town boards adhere to the state's Open Meeting Law. Rather than simply making the Town's online calendar available for local boards to "self-post" their meeting information, someone from the Town Clerk's Office has been given the responsibility of making sure every local meeting, even regional meetings, are posted in a timely fashion.
The result is a significantly beefed-up calendar and an added layer of Open Meeting accountability.
One thing Graffeo has not changed is the $4,000 stipend the town clerk receives to serve as parking clerk. According to Graffeo, the $4,000 is actually a salary associated with the specific title and job description of Parking Clerk. She said the responsibilities (and stipend) of parking clerk do not fall under the duties of the town clerk.
Traditionally, the Tewksbury Town Clerk has held both positions, but Graffeo said, anyone could be appointed parking clerk and receive the stipend for doing that job.
Another area Graffeo has started to address is the area of cross-training office personnel, something she said was not done enough under her predecessor.
"Staff development is a key aspect to the plan, moving forward," she said, adding that she feels the staff had, to this point, been underutilized.
When Nichols was town clerk, the office had four other employees -- one full -time and three part-time. As part of Town Manager Richard Montouri's ongoing efforts to make town government more efficient, the Town Clerk's Office will likely lose a part-time position by attrition. This has made cross-training that much more important, said Graffeo.
"I've been passing on the responsibilities I had as assistant town clerk to the (other employees) in the office," said Graffeo. "They're picking it up. I feel like we'll be able to provide the same services, actually better services, moving forward."
The future of the Town Clerk's Office somewhat up in the air. Presently, because the town clerk is an elected position, the office does not fall under the authority of the town manager and, as such, operates independently on many levels. Many town officials, including Montuori, believe the position should be appointed, thus falling under the town manager's authority and adding accountability.
The issue is being discussed by the Special Act Charter Committee and may be decided by voters as early as a Special Town Meeting in the fall.
Graffeo is on record as saying that with the right person leading it, a Town Clerk's Office with an elected town clerk can function well. Still, she is quick to add that she will accept the will of the people and can do her job under either structure.
Graffeo said she has enjoyed working closely with Montuori and the town department heads and the respect is mutual.
"She's been great to work with and has done a great job with the Open Meting Law," said Montuori, adding that the town clerk has always been invited to sit in on weekly staff meetings. "She has kept the lines of communication open. She understands that it's a team effort."
Looking ahead, Graffeo said she is hoping to add an online payment method to the town's website, allowing residents to pay fees and fines more easily. She said she will also continue to post important public documents on the website.
One major project on the horizon is the restoration and improved preservation of vital records. Graffeo said she plans to meet with representatives of the town's Historical Society to come up with a plan. That plan will likely coincide with the evacuation of Town Hall during the upcoming major renovation project.
When town offices are shifted to the Senior Center, the town's vital records will likely be sent to a restoration/preservation service. They will be returned once the Town Hall renovation is completed.
Graffeo admits that even after working in the office for seven years, there has been an adjustment period since her election.
"I'm learning something new every day," she said. "I feel like I'm picking up a lot of different piece of the puzzle and putting it together."