Charter Committee Presents Report, 'Final' Draft Of Proposed Changes
Selectmen take no action yet on SACC request to schedule Special Town Meeting.
It's out there. Now what?
That's the question facing the Tewksbury Board of Selectmen now that the Special Act Charter Committee has submitted its final report and "final" draft of_ proposed changes to the Town Charter (see PDF attachment).
The SACC presented its findings at Tuesday night's BOS meeting, along with a request that selectmen schedule a Special Town Meeting to give Tewksbury residents the chance to vote on the proposed changes. Selectmen unanimously voted to table that decision pending further discussion.
Highlights of the SACC recommendations include:
- Replacing Open Town Meeting with a 9-member Town Council. Five of the members would be "at-large" and four would be ward representatives.
- Stipends for the councilors would be determined by the council but the SACC is recommending no increase from the present stipend.
- All boards presently elected would stay elected.
- Voters could demand that a matter be addressed or a vote reconsidered by the School Committee or Town Council by citizens petition with the signatures of 150 registered voters.
- Voters could demand an item be placed on the ballot for a binding referendum by citizens petition with the signatures of five percent of the town's registered voters.
"We really wanted to minimize the number of changes from what we have now to what we might have in the future," said Selectman Scott Wilson, who serves as chairman of the SACC.
Selectmen grilled members of the SACC on various aspects of the report and document on matters such as increased workload for councilors and the process moving forward. The SACC members were joined by Marilyn Contreras, a consultant from the Mass. Municipal Association specializing in town charters.
Selectmen David Gay and Anne Marie Stronach both indicated that they felt that the original mission statement crafted when the BOS formed the committee two years ago, called for the committee's part in the process to end with a report highlighting recommendations to selectmen.
Gay went further, stating he believed that by crafting a new charter, the committee had gone well beyond the bounds of its mission.
"I don’t see anything in the mission (statement) that asks (the SACC) to write a document or to sell people on it," said Gay. "I'm confused about how we got from there to here."
After the meeting, Wilson said he felt that crafting a document with the recommended changes fell within the mission statement for the committee.
"Absolutely, we believe it's part of the mission," said Wilson. "If (crafting a document) wasn't part of its mission, this committee could have been done a year ago."
After the meeting Gay said felt it should have been up to the selectmen to decide what to do with the committee's recommendations. He said the board could have voted to draft a modified charter itself with help from the Town Counsel, or could have voted to work with the SACC on the drafting of the document.
Gay did say he supports a proposal by Wilson and the SACC to add one step to the ratification process. Wilson said the SACC believes that if the changes are adopted at a Special Town Meeting, they should also go before voters at a ballot election. Wilson suggested the November 2012 election, if there is a room on the state ballot. As a presidential election, voter participation would be at its highest.
Gay said he supports the November 2012 ballot idea. but he reiterated his stand that a Special Town Meeting should be scheduled for the same time as the Annual Town Meeting in May.
Wilson believes a May STM vote would not give the State Legislature enough time to approve the action and get the matter placed on the November ballot.
_Board Chairman Todd Johnson_ took a strong stand in favor of letting Tewksbury voters have the final say on any proposed charter changes and said it has been far too long since the town has had a charter review.
"Shame on us for waiting 25 years," said Johnson. "In my opinion, shame on us if we decide that the rest of the community doesn’t deserve to be heard. Five people shouldn’t decide. I believe this should go forward."
Wilson said he will be in attendance at all three of _Town Manager Richard Montuori's "Neighborhood Meetings"_, starting _Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Wynn School. _Wilson said he would be glad to answer any uqestions or concerns people might have about the SACC report, the recommendations and the process.