Charter Committee Will Present Recommendation to Selectmen on Jan. 18
Finishing touches being put on warrant article.
As the finishing touches are being put on proposed changes to the Town Charter, the committee working on the project has paid special attention to maintaining a system of checks and balances.
According to Elizabeth Carey, chairwoman of the Special Act Charter Committee, a completed first draft of the proposed changes will be voted on by the committee at its next meeting on Jan. 11. It will then be presented to the Board of Selectmen for its review, in a joint workshop session on Jan. 18.
The selectmen do not need to approve the document, but the session will provide them the opportunity to provide feedback.
The major change being proposed by the committee would eliminate the Town Meeting style of government Tewksbury has used since its inception and establish a seven-member Town Council and a stronger Town Manager position.
Residents will also be given the chance to comment on the proposed charter change in a series of public forums to be scheduled in January and February. Times and locations are still to be determined.
Voters will have the final say on the charter changes at Annual Town Meeting on May 2.
While some of the changes proposed are dramatic, committee members stress they are not looking to strip voters of their participation in town government.
At its meeting Monday night at Town Hall, the committee discussed the division of appointment powers between the Town Manager and a newly formed Town Council, as well as which town boards would remain elected and which would be appointed, should the new charter be approved.
Committee member Rick O'Neil suggested adopting a model used in the town of Palmer, under which all boards except for the Council, School Committee and Planning Board would be appointed. Such a model would result in significant changes for the Board of Health, Library Board of Trustees and Housing Authority, all of which are presently elected.
"Appointing those boards would make for a more efficient way to implement policies," said O'Neil. "We need to take a more business-like approach."
But committee member Jim Biewener and the other members of the committee felt that taking away that much voting power from residents could result in a backlash that might result in the entire charter being defeated.
"We're already preparing to take away Town Meeting," said Biewener. "But if we take away votes on other town boards, I think that's a lot to ask."
"In order to get this passed, we need the support of those who want the boards that are elected to continue to be elected," said Carey.
The committee also voted to continue existing town procedures, which provide the Town Manager with the power to appoint most officers and department heads but provides the Town Council (currently the selectmen) with a 15-day window to veto the selection by a majority vote.
The Town Council would maintain the authority to appoint members to non-elected town boards and committees, as well as several other town positions, such as constables.
A PDF version proposed Town Charter draft will be posted on Tewksbury Patch as soon as it is finalized.