An attempt to make the Town of Rutland clerk an appointed position has failed to advance to a referendum.

Dawn George has served as town clerk for 37 years, and some residents have asked to see the town make it an appointed position because of concerns about finding a qualified successor. Some towns in Wisconsin have made the shift in recent years because of a lack of interested candidates and qualified candidates.

Rutland Sup. Deana Zentner made a motion to enact an ordinance to change to an appointed town clerk during the monthly Town Board meeting Tuesday, June 2, but it didn’t reach a vote without a second.

Zentner said when she was first elected to the Town Board, she didn’t want the clerk position to lose the ability of garnering women’s votes.

“After learning the intricacies of the situation for the clerk, I think if we should expand the pool (with an appointed position) when the time comes,” Zentner said.

Town clerks preserve documents, issuing licenses, applying for state grants, pay bills and oversee elections, among other duties. Many are the face of the town and the main point of contact; some, like George, act essentially as administrators.

During discussion before Zentner’s motion, Town Chair Peter Loughrin said he was hesitant to enact an ordinance and then set up a referendum question for the ballot with an undefined job description.

“It’s premature to switch the job when it’s not laid out and determined what the job is,” he said.

Rutland resident Bob Postel said electing a town clerk is “like a popularity contest.” And he is concerned about hiring a successor in the future who is not qualified.

“I feel if we elected a town clerk no one would fill your shoes,” Postel said. “You will have no clue if someone is competent to do your job. An elected clerk will not have 50 to 75% of a clue what you do in your job.”

This spring, 13 towns and one village had referendums on their ballots to switch to an appointed clerk, according to Madison-based WisPolitics.com.

Loughrin said he supports keeping an elected clerk, citing availability to the community among his reasons.

“When you are elected, you are available any time of day and weekend,” Loughrin said. “If you appoint a clerk, it will be an 8-5 job.”

Former Town Chair Mark Porter said the board should work on a succession plan for George, and if they are keeping the status quo, they owe it to the community to explain why they are keeping the clerk an elected position.

If the town converts to an appointed clerk, it must approve of a new ordinance and then have a referendum question on the ballot approved.

George said it would cost the town about $1,000 to have a referendum question on an appointed clerk on the ballot.