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Mar. 25—The Select Board is set to appoint Richard Howe as a member to the board for about a year, members agreed Friday morning.
Howe will replace Dan Koh, a former Select Board member who resigned in February to take a job as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Labor.
Twelve people applied to fill the remainder of Koh's term on the board, which is up next March.
The majority of applicants have all been active in the community serving on various boards and committees in town, and the four select board members agreed that it was a great group of candidates.
After interviewing the candidates, the remaining four board members listed their top four candidates and sent them to chair Annie Gilbert. There were two candidates — Howe and Paula Colby-Clements — who appeared on four and three of the select board members' lists respectively.
The board did not formally approve Howe Friday morning because it is against the town's rules to do so before the town election, which was Tuesday. However, they agreed to appoint him to the board Wednesday after press time.
The members generally agreed they needed a person who could step in at day one with the budgeting work that is coming as the board prepares for Town Meeting on June 5, where voters will be asked to approve the budget and other projects in town.
"I agree with Chris (Huntress). I would like to have someone as fluent as possible in the current issues we are facing," said Gilbert. "We have an incredibly important Town Meeting coming up. And while I think every candidate could certainly come up to speed, there would be more of a learning curve with some more than others. I'm hoping to see someone appointed, who as Chris said, can step right in."
Town residents are set to vote on borrowing $280 million — $115 million to build a new West Elementary and Shawsheen Preschool and $165 million to pay the town's unfunded pension liability. The town has been underfunding the pension liability for about 30 years, so the town is working to borrow the funds and pay it back on a schedule that would not limit the town budget, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan has previously said.
"Because we are looking at a board participating as individual members on the pension obligation bonds and integrated finance plan, which is complicated particularly for people like me who don't have a background in finance or bonds," said member Laura Gregory.
Howe served on the finance committee in the late 2000s, and in 2007 he was one of the first to propose a "pension obligation fund" to fill the unfunded liability that was only about $17 or $18 million at the time, he said. It was a "missed opportunity" then, however, he is pleased with the plan now.
"It's complicated and it's up to all of us, whether I'm on the board or not, to explain it to neighbors and to simplify it in a way that people understand we are actually saving money by linking these two bonds together," Howe said about the plan to borrow $280 million.
In addition to volunteering for the town, Howe worked in local government for about 25 years before switching to the private sector where he most recently worked for Phillips Academy. Howe is currently retired.
The board meeting was set for Wednesday after press time to confirm Howe's appointment, Gilbert said.