Selectmen Vote Unanimously To Schedule Town Meeting Vote On Charter
Stronach goes public with opposition to SACC proposal for a town council but says the decision must be made by the voters, not the selectmen.
The people will have their say.
In a move surprising in its unanimity, the Board of Selectmen voted, 5-0, on Tuesday (Feb. 14) to present the charter changes proposed by the Special Act Charter Commission to Town Meeting voters later this year.
If approved by voters, the new charter would replace Open Town Meeting with a nine-member Town Council.
The precise date and time the article will be voted on is still to be determined, though it is expected that it will placed on a Special Town Meeting warrant around the same time as the Annual Town Meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 7 and May 9.
Traditionally, a Special Town Meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, just prior to the second session of the Annual Town Meeting at 8 p.m. The Wednesday session is expected to attract a large crowd, as it will likely include an article asking voters to approve appropriating $1.7 million for an expanded, multi-sport athletic complex with an artificial turf field.
Selectman Doug Sears, who has been a vocal critic of the process used by the SACC in constructing the proposed charter, said it is time for the people to be heard on the issue.
"If the Special Act Charter Committee feels it has the right recipe, then it's up to the public to decide if it's to their taste," he said.
Sears also said he believes the charter issue is so important that it deserves its own night to discuss and debate, prior to a vote.
"This (article) will have a life of its own and it needs to be contained in its own day," said Sears, who said he believes an issue this important needs the full concentration of those participating in the debate and the vote. "It would be very easy to go off topic and I don't want that to happen."
Selectman David Gay, the most outspoken supporter of Open Town Meeting on the board, said he had initially opposed scheduling a town meeting vote on the charter proposal. But he said he felt the issue needed "some closure." He believes a town meeting vote will accomplish that.
Selectwoman Anne Marie Stronach, whom some believed might be a swing vote when it came to moving the charter proposal to a Town Meeting vote, turned some heads when she took her first public stance on the charter issue.
"For the record I will not be supporting the town council form of government. I believe the town meeting works," she said, adding that she felt there were ways to improve the town meeting process.
After the meeting, Stronach elaborated on her position, saying the issue came down to the voice of the individual and maintaining the system of checks and balances.
"Even if just a hundred people show up (at a town meeting), those hundred people have invested time and energy and I don't think those voices should be silenced," she said. "I don't think (voter) apathy is a reason for increased government."
But despite her opposition to the charter proposal, Stronach said she felt it was inappropriate for her to try and quash it without a public vote.
"It should be everyone voting on this, not just (the selectmen)," she said.
Stronach believes the Special Town Meeting on the charter proposal should be scheduled for Monday Night, May 7, immediately following the first session of the Annual Town Meeting. The Monday session deals almost exclusively with the budget and tends take much less time than the Wednesday session.
Selectman Scott Wilson, who serves as chairman of the SACC, said he was pleased with the decision to move forward to Town Meeting and was gratified that even colleagues who don't support the proposed changes were willing to let the public vote on the issue.
"I think that’s a good thing for the residents," said Wilson. "A lot of residents that I've talked to have said they want to have their say."