Charter Committee Recommendation Starting to Take Shape
Public invited to give input, feedback at meeting Tuesday night at Town Hall.
When Selectman Scott Wilson took the reins of the Special Act Charter Committee (SACC) a few months ago he had two priorities -- one was legal, the other perceptual.
Wilson was appointed as a liaison from the Board of Selectmen after it was determined that the SACC had committed several violations of the open meeting law. His first objective was to "recreate" the meetings that had been deemed illegal. Despite a couple of early hiccups, that issue is being dealt with
But the second objective was, perhaps, more important and more challenging ... add transparency to the process of the charter review.
With that in mind, Wilson and the committee scheduled a series of three public forums to gain input and feedback from residents on possible changes to the Town Charter and, in particular, the form of government best suited for Tewksbury moving forward.
The first, back in April at the Senior Center, attracted about 20 residents. The second is scheduled for Tuesday, in the Town Hall Auditorium, starting at 7 p.m. Wilson said he anticipates being able to give residents a framework of the types of charter changes the committee will be recommending.
"The first public meeting was great. We got some terrific input from people," said Wilson. "I think by the meeting on (June 7) we should be able to give people a sense of where we are leaning."
Generating the most interest among residents is the possibility of Tewksbury abandoning its open Town Meeting form of government and replacing it with either a consolidated Town Council or a representative Town Meeting.
Wilson and the SACC discussed the three types of government being considered when they met with elected officials in May.
"They asked some great questions," said Wilson. "Depending on where they were coming from (and what board they served on) they asked different types of questions."
Wilson admitted there is a not a consensus yet among SACC members on possible recommendations. He said that while a majority of the nine-member committee may be leaning a certain way based on what they feel is best for Tewksbury, it's more of an even split when it comes to what the public will accept and support.
As for Wilson, personally, he sees the benefits of a seve-member Town Council and doesn't believe it would strip residents of any control.
"I don't think people would have less control (if Town Meeting is abolished), I think they would have a different type of control," he said. "What I like about the council (form of government) is that people would actually have more control."
Wilson explained his position by saying that when the Board of Selectmen hold public hearings on issues that matter to people, there tends to be a strong turnout and passionate debate. He said that in an open Town Meeting, less people tend to be involved in the discussion.
"I love those passionate debates. A lot of good things come out of those meetings," he said, adding that voters would always maintain the ultimate control at the ballot box. Wilson believes that if a council form of government were to be adopted, a workable recall procedure must be part of the checks and balances.
Moving forward, Wilson said he doesn't believe that any proposed changes to the Town Charter will be ready to present to voters at the Fall Special Town Meeting. He feels early 2012 is a more realistic target for completing a draft, having it reviewed by Town Counsel and conducting a series of public information sessions before bringing it to Town Meeting voters.