Open Town Meeting Or Nine-Member Council -- Voters To Decide
SACC adds ward representation to proposed Town Charter Changes.
When voters examine the new Town Charter being proposed by the Special Act Charter Committee (SACC), they will notice something brand new to Tewksbury town government -- ward representation.
By a 5-2 vote, the SACC voted to modify its recommendation for a seven-member Town Council to a nine-member council with five at-large members and four ward representatives. Such a council would, with voter approval, replace Tewksbury's present open town meeting form of government.
The SACC was acting on a recommendation from Marilyn Contreras, who works with the Mass. Municipal Association and the Department of Housing and Community Development and, according to SACC Chairman Scott Wilson, is considered a "charter guru." Contreras met with the SACC last week, after having examined a draft of the proposed charter.
"She's extremely knowledgeable," said Wilson. "I hadn't really supported (ward councilors) but she explained the benefits and talked about other communities that have the nine-member council with the ward councilors ... I was convinced."
SACC member Ron Hall says he believes a nine-member council would allow town government to operate far more efficiently and, as a result, serve residents better.
"With a council form of government, you will have the ability to respond (to situations) in a much faster time frame," said Hall.
Committee members Jim Biewener and Dean Graffeo voted against the recommendation. The men said they supported a nine-member council but didnt like the idea of having councilors who represented the needs of a a particular ward instead of the town as a whole.
The committee also voted, 6-1, to apply another of Contreras' recommendations. Under the proposed charter, recall petitions will require signatures from 20 percent of the town's registered voters in order to appear on a ballot. That's an increase from the 10 percent currently required.
"(Contreras) felt that 20 percent is an achievable figure but will also prevent frivolous recalls," said Wilson.
Wilson said the draft of the proposed charter still needs proofing but that decisions regarding major points have been made. Committee members will appear before the Board of Selectmen Tuesday (Sept. 13) and present copies of the latest draft.
Wilson said the SACC will spend much of the month of October meeting with various town boards to go over the details of the proposed charter and answer any questions. After that, the committee will ask the Board of Selectmen to request a special town meeting (likely in either November or January) with the proposed charter as the only article on the warrant.
Another key change being proposed in the SACC recommendation would shift the position of Town Clerk from an elected position to an appointed position under the authority of the town manager. This was an issue that came up during April's municipal election, with several candidates stating they believed the position needed greater accountability.
Town Clerk Denise Graffeo, who won the position in April, is on record as stating she believes such accountability can be achieved with the position being either appointed or elected.
Town Manager Richard Montuori has stated he would prefer the position be appointed.
Hall said he is optimistic the voters will support the new charter.
"The question becomes, 'is the town ready for it?' said Hall. "About 65 percent of the people I've talked to say it is time for a change."
The SACC meets again Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at Police Headquarters on Main Street.