After Town Meeting, It’s Time for Municipal Boards to Reorganize

By Susan Slack, Esq.

After election ballots have been counted and the town meeting “dust" has settled, the various municipal boards, commissions and committees should reorganize and prepare for another year of activity. New members should be sworn in, a chairperson should be selected and any vacancies should be filled.

Q. When are new members sworn in?
A. Newly elected board and committee members should be sworn in at a time determined by the governing body, but not before the close of business on the Friday following election day. The reason for this delay is to allow candidates to request recounts. Winners can be sworn in after the close of business on the Friday after election day, or soon thereafter; however, for those races in which a recount has been requested, the winner cannot be sworn in until the board of recount declares the results. See RSA 41:3 and RSA 669:30.

Q. When does the term of an appointed board member end?
A. All town officers continue in office until the next annual meeting and until others are elected or appointed to replace them and are sworn in. A board member’s tenure ends when his or her replacement has taken the oath of office. RSA 41:3. Therefore, good records should be kept of appointed members and the date their terms expire. Both the committee chairs and the appointing authority (often the governing body) should keep accurate records and should be in communication about the filling of expired terms. As soon after town meeting as possible, the appointing authority should begin the process of reappointing members whose terms are due to expire, or finding new members to replace them. Consult RSA Chapter 669 for the statutes that govern who has authority to make appointments to various boards and committees.

Q. How are board chairpersons designated?
A. The statutes governing some boards and committees make specific reference to election of chairpersons, but for other boards, there is no mention in the statutes of electing a chairperson. For instance, there is no specific reference to the election of a chairperson for the board of selectmen. There is an unwritten tradition of choosing the person who is serving in his or her third year of a three-year term, but that is not a hard and fast rule, and whoever receives the majority of votes among the members of the board is the chairperson regardless of length of service.

The most specific statutes on the election of chairpersons are in reference to the various land use boards: planning board, zoning board of adjustment, historic district commission and heritage commission. RSA 673:8 states that each land use board “shall elect its chairperson from the appointed or elected members."RSA 673:9 further states that the term of the chairperson and other officers (vice chair, secretary, etc.) is one year, but such officers are eligible for reelection. The statute also prohibits ex officio members, such as the selectmen’s representative to the planning board, from serving as chairperson of a land use board.

RSA 35-B:5 states that the recreation commission shall elect a chairperson who shall serve for one year or until a successor is elected. RSA 32:15, VI limits the election of the chairperson of the budget committee to members elected or appointed at large, meaning that representatives to the budget committee from the governing bodies (board of selectmen, school board, village district commissioners) cannot serve as budget committee chairperson.

Q. How are alternate board members appointed?
A. The statutes governing land use boards include specific provisions for appointing alternates. If the members of the land use board are appointed, rather than elected, and if the legislative body (town meeting) has provide for the appointment of alternates, then up to five alternates may be appointed by the governing body. If the members of the planning board or zoning board of adjustment are elected, each board may appoint up to five alternate members who shall serve a three-year term.

Q. How are ex officio members of the planning board appointed and what is their term of office?
A. In the majority of towns, the board of selectmen designates one selectman or an administrative official of the town as the ex officio member of the planning board. In towns that operate under the town council form of government, a member of the council or an administrative official selected by the council shall be designated the ex officio member. In some cities, the ex officio members of the planning board are the mayor or a designee, an administrative official selected by the mayor and a city councilor selected by the council; in other cities, the ex officio members are the city manager or designee and a city council member selected by the council. RSA 673:2.

According to RSA 673:5, the term of office of the ex officio member shall coincide with the term of that person’s other office. For example, if a selectman in his or her first year of a three-year term is designated as the ex officio member of the planning board, he or she serves in that ex officio position for all three years of his or her selectman’s term of office. There are several exceptions to this rule. The term of an administrative official appointed by the mayor shall terminate with the term of office of the mayor. The term of an administrative official appointed by a town council or board of selectmen shall be for one year. Also, a city or town council or board of selectmen may vote to make the ex officio member’s term last either one year or four months.

Q. Can alternates be appointed for the ex officio planning board members?
A. Alternates for city or town council and selectmen members of the planning board are appointed by the respective council or board of selectmen. The terms of the alternate members are the same as those of the respective members. RSA 673:6, III.