Attorney provides opinion on residency language   

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PROSPECT — The directors of public safety, the Recreation Department and the Prospect Public Library don’t have to be town residents, according to Town Attorney John Yarbrough’s interpretation of the town Charter.

Section 2.02(b) of the Charter states, “All appointive offices shall be filled by resident electors of the Town unless there is no resident elector who is properly qualified. … Any person appointed to a Town office as a resident elector of the Town who ceases to be a resident elector of the Town during the term of the office shall thereupon cease to hold the appointive office.”

The Charter specifically exempts the town attorney from this requirement.

Officials questioned the ambiguity of the language and exactly what appointed offices it referred to in town. Charter revisions proposed last year included changes that would have eliminated the residency requirement for any non-elected, compensated positions in an attempt to clear up the matter. Voters rejected all the proposed Charter changes on Election Day, and the issue remained muddled.

The matter was pushed to the forefront due to a letter from Paul Krisavage, who served on the Charter Revision Commission, to the Town Council. In the letter, Krisavage points out that Prospect police Lt. Nelson Abarzua, who is the appointed director of public safety, no longer lives in town and questioned his eligibility to serve as director of public safety.

The council sought legal clarification on the matter as well as the status of Recreation Director Chris Moffo and Library Director John Wiehn, who both live out of town.

Yarbrough told the council last week that the most “reasonable and fair reading of the charter” is that section 2.02(b) applies to offices listed in chapters four and six of the Charter.

Chapters four and six govern officers, boards and commissions appointed by the council and mayor, respectively, including the Inland Wetlands Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Library Board, Recreation Commission, tree warden, and fire marshal.

Yarbrough said the Charter includes special wording about the appointments of department heads by the mayor otherwise specified by the Charter, but the list in chapter six doesn’t include the public safety director, which isn’t mentioned in the Charter at all.

Yarbrough added the recreation director and library director positions aren’t mentioned in the Charter either. He said the Library Board, which is appointed by the council, has management powers granted by the Charter and state law. He added the Recreation Commission, which is appointed by the mayor, has authority to appoint directors and supervisors of activities under the Charter.

Yarbrough said because another section of the Charter uses the word “appointive” doesn’t in of itself mean it’s an appointive office under section 2.02(b). He said the word in many contexts simply means hired.

Yarbrough provided the council with a detailed opinion on the matter and other clarifications sought by officials. The council is expected to review the memo and discuss the matter at a future meeting.