There are many interesting issues to analyze in he wake of Tuesday's Rockport town elections, from the rousing 1,119 vote total rung up by belated but winning write-in candidate Wilhelmina Sheedy, to the ouster of Selectman Sandy Jacques in the face of Sheedy's triumph and the re-election of now three-time winner Sarah Wilkinson.
But the most interesting may be a voters' decision that, under normal circumstances, might be the least significant. That's the emphatic choice by voters in a non-binding referendum to reject changing the town clerk's position from an elected to an appointed one — a choice that won out with 1,225 standing opposed to the change, with only 763 in favor.
The vote is more intriguing in that the same voters elected Acting Clerk Pat Brown over challenger John Arnold to serve out the final year of the former term of longtime clerk Fred Frithsen, who retired last year.
Brown, who had been Frithsen's assistant before taking over acting clerk's duties, had stood in favor of converting the post to an appointed position, while Arnold had run strongly on the basis that the clerk's position should be elected and the clerk therefore directly accountable to voters, not merely the appointing Board of Selectmen.
Yet, when it came to answering that question themselves, the voters actually sided with Arnold, and cast their recommendation with maintaining the clerk's job as elected.
In many cases, a non-binding referendum is just that — a simple sampling of voters' opinion regarding an issue that town officials or legislators are welcome to take or leave. And Tuesday's vote is a controversial one. We have noted, for example, the need in today's government landscape for a qualified town clerk who carries the best credentials for appointment — not one who can be merely be elected by his or her friends in a popularity contest. And the success Essex has found in its shift to an appointed clerk two years ago and the subsequent appointment of the very qualified and able Christina Wright speaks volumes in favor of taking that course.
Yet Rockport's Tuesday "non-binding" vote, considering their candidates' stands, shows that voters put some thought into this choice. And the fact that 39 percent of the town's voters turned out for the elections — with nearly 2,000 voting on the referendum, give this vote significant weight,
To that end, the selectmen or anyone else still looking to give Rockport an appointed town clerk should view this vote as essentially binding. To go against the grain of this choice by voters would, in fact, be a betrayal of town residents that even Rockport officials simply should dare not touch.