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Selectmen seek part time planner

December 03, 2009
WAKEFIELD — Selectmen are seeking a part time planner to replace the full town planner who departs this week to take another position in Farmington.

Town Planner Kathy Menici's resignation will become effective on Friday, Dec. 4. She was hired in Wakefield in June of 2007.

A new planner's responsibilities would include directing and coordinating planning, zoning, conservation and economic development activities for the town. It would be a 34-hour per week position. The hours have to be kept to 34 or under because town positions become full time at 35 hours, said Town Administrator Robin Frost.

Last week, Planning Board members came to the selectmen's meeting to lobby for a new full time planner with experience. Planning Board Chairman Rod Cools said the board didn't want a "college kid" or to go back to contracting with organizations such as Strafford Regional Planning Commission.

The full time position has been controversial since its inception in 2007. Menici's letter described the criticism surrounding the creation of her position as "discouraging and demoralizing." Selectmen created the planner position during the budget process in 2007, the year after voters rejected an advisory warrant article calling for a full-time planner. Since then, a number of residents have questioned how and why she was hired.

Now, opponents have said the economy is too slow to warrant a new full time planner.

"I understand there are a lot of people saying there's nothing going on this minute," said Cools. "But those people are not sitting in that office watching what is coming in and going out; they are not sitting in that office finding all the information the board has to have in order to make a decision."

Further, Cools said none of the planning board members have the time to do the prep work that Menici used to do. Cools suggested if the selectmen don't want to support a full time planner, they should look at splitting the cost with another town.

Selectman Mark Duffy said he'd like to pursue trying to get a part time planner and if that doesn't work the town could look for a full time planner. He agrees with Cools that the new planner would need to be a professional. Duffy said with the economy in tough shape, qualified applicants might be willing to take the job.

In fact, resident Chuck Robbins said he's heard there is such a candidate interested in the position.

But Ken Paul said he'd rather contract planning services to one or more consultants. However, he did support advertising for a part time planner.

"I don't see the need for full time right now, that's for sure," said Paul. "Sharing with another town just seems like a headache."

Selectman John Blackwood was absent due to an injury.

Duffy and planning board members agreed having Menici reduced the amount the town spent on legal fees. In 2007, the planning board's legal expenses were $15,573. Currently, the town is budgeting $4,000.

Residents in the audience offered a variety of ways the town could adapt to Menici's departure. Dick Wessell said he like the idea of splitting the cost of a full time planner with another town. Further, he said a decrease in the planning board's legal fees didn't come as a result of hiring a planner. Those drops were actually due to a decrease in workload, said Wessell.

Jerry O'Connor said increasing the number of planning board members from five to seven might help the planning board cope. He noted 151 New Hampshire towns have seven members and 57 have five members.

Linda Shier, executive director of the Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance, submitted a letter that urged board members to make planning a priority.

Relf Fogg suggested the town contact the Local Government Center in Concord.

On Tuesday, Duffy said all options are still on the table. However, he's learned that LGC does not provide planning services.

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