Selectmen Cancel Charter Committee Workshop Amid Open Meeting Concerns
SACC Chairwoman Elizabeth Carey maintains her committee has followed the law.
A workshop session that had been scheduled for Jan. 18 to discuss proposed changes to the Town Charter was cancelled, amid concerns over the procedures followed by the Special Act Charter Committee (SACC).
The meeting, between the SACC and Board of Selectmen was cancelled by board Chairman Todd Johnson.
At the Jan.11 selectmen's meeting, Johnson stated that concerns have been raised regarding SACC procedures, including adhering to the Open Meeting Law, while conducting business over the past 18 months. He said concerns had been raised by multiple parties, including the Community Preservation Committee.
Johnson asked Town Counsel Charles Zaroulis to research the matter and render a legal opinion on the concerns raised. According to Johnson, Zaroulis got back to the board in a timely manner and, based on the attorney's opinion, Johnson cancelled the meeting.
"We're going to discuss these concerns at our next selectmen's meeting (on Jan.25). The board will deliberate and we will decide how to proceed," said Johnson.
He said the discussion would take place in open session.
Johnson stressed that the cancellation of the Jan. 18 meeting will not have an impact on the process that is expected to lead to an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant, asking voters to make changes to the existing Town Charter. He said the board takes the issues seriously and wants to deal with them thoroughly before moving forward.
"When you climb a ladder, you need to take the first step before you can take the second step," he said.
The meeting had been scheduled as a means for the board to provide the committee with feedback regarding the changes to the Town Charter being proposed by the committee. The changes, which would include eliminating Town Meeting and replacing the current five-member Board of Selectment with a seven-member Town Council, are contained in a draft document that the committee plans to put forth as a warrant article at the sping Annual Town Meeting.
The letter submitted to selectmen by the CPC and signed by Chairwoman Nancy Reed, outlines several concerns over the process, as well as the impact proposed charter changes would have on the CPC. The most serious concern raised dealt with what the CPC felt was a lack of transparency on the part of the SACC and the possibility that the SACC had violated the state's open meeting law.
The letter reads, in part:
"It was unsettling to hear one CPC member, Donna Pelczar express that she had tried to attend an SACC meeting in November 2010 at the Town Hall and was turned away- although advertised as such, she was told it was not a public meeting. It was also discussed that a majority of their meetings were held at a private residence- not conducive to public attendance, and not accessible to disabled citizens."
A copy of the entire letter is attached to this article.
For her part, Elizabeth Carey, the chairwoman of the SACC, holds firm that her committee has, in fact followed the law followed proper procedures in creating their draft of proposed charter changes.
"The Special Act Charter Committee operates properly under the open meeting law," said Carey. "Our committee never received a complaint that we did not comply with the open meeting law and never 'turned away' any person from any of our meetings."
Reed declined to comment further on the letter.
Selectmen David Gay, who represents the board on the CPC, is mentioned in the letter as having concerns over a lack of information being provided by the SACC to the selectmen during the process.
"As a member of the Community Preservation Committee, it was clear from the strong opinions voiced (the night the CPC decided to draft the letter), that there are serious concerns of how the SACC has proceeded to this point in time," said Gay.
Carey also stated that present or future CPC projects were not in danger if the form of town government in Tewksbury changed.
"State statutes covers the methods of funding for Community Preservation Committees under various governmental forms including town meetings, town councils and others," she said.