New Harrison town clerk starts Monday

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Melissa St. John will have big shoes to fill when she takes over the town clerk’s job in Harrison.

The obvious reason is because she’s replacing a highly-respected veteran town employee, Judy Colburn, who served twice as Interim Town Manager over her 24 years as Town Clerk. Colburn, who for many embodied the spirit behind Harrison’s motto as “The Friendly Village,” will officially step down as full-time Town Clerk this Friday, March 8.

But when St. John starts work as the new Harrison Town Clerk on Monday, March 11, she’ll be taking on additional responsibilities that weren’t part of Colburn’s job description.

“She’s doing everything that Judy did, plus,” Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch said. Along with the usual town clerk duties of record keeping, colleting taxes and fees, issuing permits and licenses, supervising clerical staff and town elections, St. John will also serve as administrative secretary to the town manager, secretary to the Harrison Board of Selectmen, and will supervise any technology changes required in the future at the town office.

Finch joked that when Colburn first saw the revised job description, “Judy said, ‘God, I wouldn’t want to do that job’.”

But with Colburn retiring, Finch said it was the right time to make the change. With significant cutbacks looming in state revenue assistance, elevating employee productivity becomes a necessary choice. “The question becomes one of how to do more with fewer people,” he said.

Town office restructuring

Soon after he came to Harrison, Finch saw the need to take a five-year instead of fiscal-year approach to the budget, and began by looking for ways to save money by increasing productivity of town employees. With St. John’s hiring, a milestone has been achieved in that ongoing restructuring process, he said in his weekly update.

“To meet the many changes yet not add new personnel, we are reorganizing who and how we get our work done,” Finch wrote. St. John’s role as town clerk will now also include serving as secretary to the town manager and secretary at selectmen’s meetings, jobs formerly done by Mary Tremblay, whose secretarial position will be eliminated.

The change will allow Tremblay, a seven-year town employee, to be promoted to the position of Assistant to the Assessor, Code Enforcement Officer and Plumbing Inspector, who is John Wentworth. In this new role, Tremblay will be responsible for computerizing all records of Wentworth’s office over the next five years. When completed, the digitization of records will “greatly reduce” the cost of future revaluation and code enforcement requirements, Finch said.

“By making this move now, we are advancing ahead of the projected workload as the economy rebounds,” Finch said. Tremblay will also prepare the town for changes in local, state and federal codes — a necessary and important job that Finch said can only be done economically by shifting around job descriptions, and not by hiring new personnel. Tremblay will also continue to serve as secretary to the Planning Board and the Zoning Board.

Chosen from a field of 24

“We’re becoming more productive in what we do,” said Finch, and the town clerk’s job, with its execution of many legal responsibilities, is “becoming more complicated, not less.” But Finch said he is confident St. John will be equal to the challenge.

St. John was chosen from a list of 24 candidates that were narrowed to seven, and then five finalists, in an open hiring process that began last fall. Because Coburn was flexible on her final retirement date, the search could be held without a fixed hiring deadline, which allowed Finch and those who assisted him in the search to wait until the right person was found with the right skills for the job.

St. John stood apart, said Finch, “for her professionalism, educational background and community service.” She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Fitchburg State College, and a Master’s Degree from the University of Pittsburg. Her salary has not yet been set, and selectmen were expected to confirm her hiring soon.

The changes in job descriptions at the town office follow changes begun earlier at Harrison Parks & Recreation to give Director Paula Holt supervision over a wide variety of recreation-related functions that were previously running independently, with limited oversight and a lack of flexibility, Finch said. Changes are also in the making at the transfer station and public works departments.

“Change is never easy, but fortunately we recognize that change is inevitable and the work we are doing will strengthen Harrison for the taxpayers and the staff,” said Finch. He is grateful for the support town employees have shown him in making some tough decisions in order to maintain the heath and vitality of town government operations.


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