Radical Changes to Town Government Likely To Be Recommended by Charter Commission
Commission expected to present proposal to selectmen that would abolish town meeting.
Nearing the end of its 18-month task, the Special Act Charter Commission is close to putting the finishing touches on a document that could radically change the form of government used in Tewksbury.
According to Chairwoman Elizabeth Carey, the commission has spent considerable time researching the various forms of government available to Tewksbury, which currently uses an "open town meeting" style.
The draft the commission is working on (that borrows heavily from similar documents in Watertown and Barnstable) would abolish Town Meeting completely, in favor of a more centralized form a government. The five-member Board of Selectmen would be replaced with a seven-member Town Council, each of whom would serve three-year terms. This council, along with the Town Manager, would both have additional authority, under the plan being considered.
Monday night at Town Hall, the commission met with Town Counsel Charles Zaroulis, who offered input on the substance of various sections of the proposed charter change. He also presented opinions on the language used and the legality of certain provisions.
The commission had been scheduled to present a finished document to the Board of Selectmen at its Dec. 7 meeting, however, at the suggestion of commission member Sandra Barbeau, the presentation will be delayed while the commission puts the finishing touches on a few key sections.
Carey said the process and the document was too important to rush it before it is ready.
"Once we present this to the selectmen, that's it," she said. "It becomes an article on the Town Meeting warrant. The selectmen don't need to approve it."
Among the provisions still being debated for the charter is one that would take many of the town's elected boards, such as board of health, conservation commission and planning board and turning them into appointed boards.
Carey would prefer the boards remain elected, to ensure continuity and ease the transition.
"I think it would give people a sense of security, of familiarity," she said.
But Zaroulis said that if Town Meeting were to be abolished, then a complete change in the method of government should take place.
"If you're going to go for a town council form of governments, then you're going to upset the apple cart," said Zaroulis. "And if you're going to tip over the apple cart, you might as well tip it all the way over.
"My view is that if you're going to get rid of the (town meeting) form of government, you're doing it because you think the voters haven't done a good job."
Commission member Richard O'Neill agreed, adding that there was good reason why the commission is recommending abolishing town meeting.
"We're saying that Town Meeting hasn't worked because it doesn't attract (large numbers of) people," said O'Neill. "And yet these are the same people we want to trust with coming out and electing board members."
The other key element still to be determined is the complete role of the president of the Town Council. The commission is considering a provision by which the president of the council would also join the School Committee as a voting member.
"From my work with the school committee, I don't think this is going to go over very well with them," said commission member Ron Hall.
Other members of the commission agreed with Hall and were leaning toward removing that provision. It will be addressed when the commission meets again on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.