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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 , 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."

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.

, is on record as stating she believes such accountability can be achieved with the position being either appointed or elected.

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.

malcolm nichols September 13, 2011 at 11:57 AM
Perhaps we should add a Retail Sales tax premium to pay for this, we could model it after the special meal and hotel tax that helped put our restraunts out of business. If we act quickly we and get this approved maybe we can stop that Job Lot from moving in too.
Dan O'Neill September 13, 2011 at 04:47 PM
We just need to get together & vote this thing down....nothing but a scam to grab more power in town....current form of government works just fine.....additionally I find it odd that they want to increase recall petitions to 20% from the current 10% of town voters....please point out the number of times we have had "frivolous" recalls....just want to make it harder to get rid of them if they are bad at their position....
Kathleen Brothers September 13, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Isn't it funny when someone says 65% of the people want change? It leaves me scratching my head wondering who are the 65%? It is like when the news people take polls you wonder where are all these people? I think I know at least 35% who don't want this voted in!!! I think, I think, I think. Voters have to get out and go to this meeting....
Dan O'Neill September 13, 2011 at 05:10 PM
The 65% are most likely the people who would benefit from this change.....I myself do not hang out with the pollsters nor was I asked my opinion....now everyone will definitely know that I am against this change....
Bill Gilman (Editor) September 13, 2011 at 06:19 PM
I always get a tad concerned when people begin making accusations of plots and power grabs. The members of this committee arer a genuine political cross section --- GOP, Dems, independents. The issue here is what type of government is best suited for Tewksbury to run efficiently. I guess I would have two questions for those who strongly oppose a change. 1) At what size population should town meeting be replaced? 50,000? 75,000? 100,000? Never. And if the answer is never, then perhaps the alternative would be to propose abolishing the board of selectmen and town manager positions completely and have all decisions made by town meeting vote. Now, I'm guessing most folks would view that last idea as impractical, as many day-today decisions need to be made and not having a board of selectmen or town manager would make that difficult. So, this brings us back to the true issue --- is having one or two open town meetings a year making it difficult for town business to be conducted because decisions have to wait for several months to be made? Would a council form of government run more cheaply and efficiently. There is a genuine debate to be had over what decisions should be made by a central government and what decisions should be made by the electorate. Let's try not to cloud the issue with character attacks.
Bill Gilman (Editor) September 13, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Agreed Kathleen. If the voters of Tewksbury genuinely want to keep Town Meeting then they need to do something they have failed to do for decades, which is actually come to Town Meeting and vote. Historically, a spectacular Town Meeting turnout is barely 10 percent of registered voters. Of course, that raises another question. Will the people who DON'T care about Town Meeting bother to come to one and vote for a change. It's going to be very interesting.
Dan O'Neill September 13, 2011 at 07:33 PM
My apologies...I did not mean to attack anyone's character.....just wondering where the 65% number came from....if the town is now large enough to move on to another form of government, why not incoporate as a city? Can anyone give me a bullet list of positives & negatives to making this change? I do believe that the the town's daily business is being taken of only the larger decisions involving large outlays of cash for specific projects are held up by a town vote....ie new high school...
Bill Gilman (Editor) September 13, 2011 at 08:21 PM
That sounds like a good basis for a story Dan ... i will work on that. And we certainly will be providing a breakdown of all the proposed changes and what they would mean.
Dave September 13, 2011 at 08:26 PM
That would actually mean you have shop in Tewksbury..no way..Wilmington has so much more offer in the 1/8th of mile than this whole town..you want my business you'll have to earn it....empty promises produces empty buildings..the new Lawrence
Karyn September 13, 2011 at 11:47 PM
I don't necessarily think a Town Council streamlines anything. In the case of a recommendation they may not like/agree with from a board such as Planning, they can vote it down (who are the experts here?) or just choose to do nothing and it reverts back to the board taking another 6 months. This is but one possible scenario. There are also the costs associated with this which I mentioned above re. NINE stipends and a salaried Town Council Clerk. Mr. Rauseo (non voting ex- officio member of the SACC) had a great bullet list he was not allowed to present in keeping with his impartial role as Town Moderator. This change to eliminate Open Town Mtg. cuts across/affects decisions made by ALL town boards elected or not...the nine member council has the FINAL say. In the case of the Community Preservation funds....it is the PEOPLES' money....shouldn't WE be the ones to decide via Open Town Mtg. what we want to spend it on rather than nine people? (who could have their own agendas?) There is no better form of checks and balances than our present system and isn't it ironic they want a large turnout to pass the very thing they're trying to eliminate? I believe this is wrong for our Town on so many levels.....and I think it's fair to say our population has about reached its maximum growth.
Karyn September 13, 2011 at 11:48 PM
continued- Lastly, with all due respect I would question where this information was obtained since there was no other media presence at the SACC mtgs. recently other than the Lowell Sun. If it is via one of the SACC members after the fact....isn't that a little one sided/biased as opposed to 'on the job' reporting one on one by attendance at the actual meeting venue? Many things to consider IMO.
Bill Gilman (Editor) September 14, 2011 at 12:10 AM
Karyn, your points are well taken and I would reiterate that Patch takes no position on this issue. I merely wanted to focus the discussion on the issues ster people away from accusations that the members of the committee were somehow attempting to manipulate the system to seize greater power. Some communities of Tewksbury's size have Town Councils and some have Open Town Meeting. I am confused by your comment regarding information obtained after the meeting. The votes were the votes and the decisions were the decisions. As for anything beyond the simple facts, those were clearly the opinions of the members of the committee quoted. It is not the job of a news publication to tell people how to vote or to judge the merits of a proposal. It is our job to try and provide you with as much information as possible so that you, the voters, can make an educated decision. We'll continue trying to achieve that goal.
Karyn September 14, 2011 at 02:52 AM
Having been in attendance at several meetings, my goal would be the same to provide some additional factual information that voters could be unaware of as well as touch on points or ramifications which perhaps they may not have thought of or may not have been brought out in the article. No confusion, even without taking a position one way or another, I just would think better, more thorough information could be gleaned by the Patch on BOTH sides of the issue by attending the meeting and observing/reporting first hand rather than through the words of a committee member afterwards. How does one know facts and information are true to report on if they are not verified in person when it's actually happening....particularly on a controversial issue of this magnitude. That's all I'm saying. No disrespect meant to ANYONE.
Christian Panasuk September 14, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Please re-read the article, and calm down a little: "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. *** "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." Mr. Hall was making the statement he talked to people about it, and he's estimating that 65% of those he's talked to are in favor of "a change." The committee is done with the proposal. We'll have more presentation meetings and then a open town meeting to discuss and vote. Final approval will have to come at the ballot box.
Karyn September 14, 2011 at 06:34 PM
All I know is I see Joyce Tsai from the Sun there at every recent meeting (which can go on for 3-4 hours) getting the whole story and withstanding criticisms from the group since she reports both sides fairly and credibly.....and I commend her tenacity. "The committee is done with the proposal. We'll have more presentation meetings and then a open town meeting to discuss and vote. Final approval will have to come at the ballot box." The document presented to the BOS was the most recent DRAFT not the final copy. Did you know that isn't set in concrete re. the ballot vote? They "probably" will follow through but it is not a definite requirement according to Town Counsel and the charter expert Marilyn Contreras. As to the additional presentations, they plan to do the Town Boards (which of course are public to attend) but whether they have time to do any additional outreach for the residents remains to be seen and, IMO, "probably" won't happen.
Bob Ferrari January 01, 2012 at 04:35 PM
North Andover and Andover seems to be having no problems with their Open Meeting form of government. There are over 33,000 residents in Andover today.... I will take a random assembly of "200 average low turnout voters" ANYDAY, over a politically connected network of seven to nine people who will make decisions for me. How many of you really trust local government? I'm still waiting for the "million dollar a year revenue check" from the Mills Mall... that almost every single person in our local government supported... Have you gotten your real estate bills and water/sewer bills ?? Economy still down, yet housing evaluations are up?? Some people have a 1700 dollar increase from last year?? The sewer project, again supported by most of our local government, was supposed to be a money maker... how's that working out?? At least at Open Town Meeting, everything needs to be sold to the masses... if Town Meeting is gone, only seven to nine councillors will need to be "sold" the goods. Makes it much much easier for power grabs, and yes this is exactly what this is about. There is a lot of information and discussions on this subject... come join them here: Part One: http://www.tewksburyissues.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=9468 Part Two: http://www.tewksburyissues.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=10027 Bob Ferrari - Webmaster of http://www.TewksburyIssues.org
Gordon Pickguard January 01, 2012 at 06:05 PM
"At least at Open Town Meeting, everything needs to be sold to the masses... if Town Meeting is gone, only seven to nine councillors will need to be "sold" the goods." Exactly the current problem with the open meeting, the "masses" have proven to be morons over and over again. Look, most people don't vote, so getting them to town meeting just dosen't happen unless there is a special agenda vote like the senior center. At least an elected board or better yet elected town meeting members from the precincts would be subjected to the electoral process. Let's face it, with the ever increasing pressure on municipal finances due to spiraling costs of raises,pensions and health plans, that in no way reflect what private sector plans cost taxpayers: it's all unsustainable. However, it will continue when open town meeting is packed with cops,firemen,teachers,dpw and their families. The changes that are proposed are not less democracy; just different and might help taxpayers get gripp on public sector unions that are going to croak us all.
Bob Ferrari January 02, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Hi Gordon... thanks for the feedback. But if you think that either of those votes would have gone any different with nine councillors (instead of an Open Town Meeting)... you would be very wrong. Just about everyone in government was PRO both of those issues.
Dan O'Neill January 02, 2012 at 02:21 AM
First....thank you for calling us all morons....sorry...I have a kid to watch while all of you have the time to go down to the town meeting & "express yourself".....not saying that I keep track all of the time but mostly, especially lately, I do keep track.... Now....I do not think that a change to a nine council government will benefit the town ie voters, people who live here, especially people who have kids, both parents working, one staying home with the kids etc..... I agree with the swap of the sewer debt...if you do not...it usually means that the line was run down your street, your septic is okay & you do not want to pay more....let everyone else foot your bill...oh & by the way we all now have an extra tax deduction.... Sorry to be that hard about the sewer but when the line was run down our street 30% signed up...much lower than projected & unsustainable.... Love to have the time to expound on all of the towns problems but do not...working for a living....have the kid to raise....
Bill Gilman (Editor) January 03, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Bob, I'm confused about one aspect to your comments. How exactly will the councillors gain their positions? By force? Will they be storming the Town Hall with weapons? Last time I checked, councilors or selectmen are elected by the people by a democratic process. Yes, these are the same voters that you trust at town meeting, yet don't trust to elect ethical, competant representation. Can't have it both ways. Or are you coming out here to say that the regulars who show up at town meeting are the only "intelligent voters?" I'm of the belief that there are plenty of people in this town well-qualified to sit on the Board of Selectmen or a town council or the finance committee, economic development committee, planning board, etc ... You are at the top of that list Bob. What we need to do is encourage these people to step up and run for office or volunteer to serve on a board. Residents of Tewksbury are proud, strong people. Talking about things is terrific, if you are actually working toward a solution. If all that's done is complaint and character assassination, that does a disservice to the town and its residents. Ultimately, the time for talking is over and those who care must stand up & take action. This means voting in elections, participating in town meeting, showing up and speaking at board meetings, running for office and volunteering to serve. In other words, don't just sit in the bleachers complain about the problem, get in the game and be an active part of the solution.
Bill Gilman (Editor) January 03, 2012 at 03:03 AM
BillVill, in what ways have the local politicians "hosed" the local residents? Now, I confess, I've only been in town a year and a half, but I've worked in numerous communities covering local government and i can tell you ive never encountered a more transparent system. Are you refering to things that happened in the past?
Jon Pratt January 03, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Well,look at the process the SSAC took to get to its decision and the mistrust that that process created. A group of 9(?) based their decision on what their felt was best for the majority of voters. Created a document that takes the vote from the majority. Yes they have safeguards that IMO are worst than the results from voting at town mtg. The BOS gave the committee a mission that thru some collaborative methods bring recommendations and potential alternatives in a study document to determine potentially if any what direction to head in. What we got was a predetermine agenda - a new charter and adversity that has split the BOS and the community.
Kathleen Brothers January 03, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Well said, Bill.
Scott Wilson January 04, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Bob, 1. OTM is a fine form of government. N.Andover & Andover have had better leaders and have made better decisions than Tewksbury which is why they are fine. 2. I trust local government more than I trust government at the State & Federal level. If we didn't have so many unfunded State mandates we could be in a better position. 3. Since the Mills Mall didn't go in, I am not sure why you would be waiting for a check. As a matter of fact your local government fought local access to help protect residents in S.Tewksbury. I believe the only major change at that time was zoning and I am not sure how residents were hurt by that. 4. So you are upset with your real estate & water & sewer bills.......what is your government today? Did OTM do the right thing? Are you advocating for a different form of government because OTM isn't working (Sarcasm). Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson January 04, 2012 at 04:26 PM
The process did not create mistrust, people created mistrust. The SACC investigated three forms of government and are proposing Town Council as the best option. The proposal changes where/when/how residents vote but residents do not lose their vote. The SACC followed its mission and through regular communication with the BOS provided updates a minimum of 12 times in 2011. If at any time the BOS felt the committee had gone too far, they could have spoken up. There was no predetermined agenda, this group went on a two year educational journey which led to their proposal based on what they learned. A proposed charter is not splitting the BOS or the community. What creates divisiveness is when people don't debate with respect and understanding. It is OK to disagree. It is OK that not everyone wants to see a change. That doesn't mean the change should get squashed because a vocal group comes out against the proposal. There are many that are advocating for change. The bottom line is the democratic process will allow the residents to have their say. They have OTM which exists and works today or they can choose a change to Town Council which will also work. Neither is perfect and neither will provide overnight perfection. Success of either involves this community finding good people to step up, get involved and make a difference.
Karyn January 04, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Sorry, but I would strongly disagree on who/what caused the mistrust. Those seeds were initially planted by the PROCESS of several public meetings held in a private resident's home that rightfully got "called out" along with the alleged turning away of a resident from one of the earlier PUBLIC mtgs. which has never been resolved other than the committee's denial that it happened. Now I know this is "old news" having taken place well over a year ago and Town Counsel weighed in and the meetings in question were hastily "done over", but IMO these series of events tainted the process early on. Some have said it's the product that's the focus but if the PROCESS to arrive at that product is laced with mistrust you can't blame people for questioning the outcome.
Scott Wilson January 04, 2012 at 07:50 PM
It doesn't matter who or what created the mistrust. Meetings being held in the private home were a concern & it got addressed. The problem was never that they were trying to do something sneaky, they were just choosing to be comfortable while meeting. I don't know how many meetings were held in private homes (as that was before I joined the committee) but I know that the first 30 meetings they held in public buildings there were no guests in attendance. This is VERY old news and honestly not helpful to people trying to understanding the proposal. Since January 2011 (12 months ago) we have had alot of meetings and opportunities for this to be an open/transparent process. If you keep holding on to the past, you will never get to the future.
Kathleen Brothers January 04, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Love that last statement, Scott. Can I quote you?
Karyn January 05, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Just keeping it real and the record straight. I'm all about the future and moving forward as long as it's in the right direction. I'm also about Town priorities for which I personally don't happen to think this qualifies as such.
Jon Pratt January 05, 2012 at 12:45 PM
The only agenda that I can see the committee has put forward is to eliminate town meeting - say what you want subjectively,but the only viable exploration or informal debate has been how to strengthen a town goverment that will allow the self-interest of political individuals to gain more control. As it is now the town filters only what it wants to the voters to gain support.

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