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Charter Committee Recommendation Starting to Take Shape

Public invited to give input, feedback at meeting Tuesday night at Town Hall.

When Selectman Scott Wilson took the reins of the Special Act Charter Committee (SACC) a few months ago he had two priorities -- one was legal, the other perceptual.

Wilson was appointed as a liaison from the after it was determined that His first objective was to "recreate" the meetings that had been deemed illegal. Despite a couple of early hiccups, that issue is being dealt with

But the second objective was, perhaps, more important and more challenging ... add transparency to the process of the charter review.

With that in mind, Wilson and the committee scheduled a series of three public forums to gain input and feedback from residents on possible changes to the Town Charter and, in particular, the form of government best suited for Tewksbury moving forward.

The first, back in April at the Senior Center, attracted about 20 residents. The second is scheduled for Tuesday, in the starting at 7 p.m. Wilson said he anticipates being able to give residents a framework of the types of charter changes the committee will be recommending.

"The first public meeting was great. We got some terrific input from people," said Wilson. "I think by the meeting on (June 7) we should be able to give people a sense of where we are leaning."

Generating the most interest among residents is the possibility of Tewksbury abandoning its open Town Meeting form of government and

Wilson and the SACC discussed the three types of government being considered when they met with elected officials in May.

"They asked some great questions," said Wilson. "Depending on where they were coming from (and what board they served on) they asked different types of questions."

Wilson admitted there is a not a consensus yet among SACC members on possible recommendations. He said that while a majority of the nine-member committee may be leaning a certain way based on what they feel is best for Tewksbury, it's more of an even split when it comes to what the public will accept and support.

As for Wilson, personally, he sees the benefits of a seve-member Town Council and doesn't believe it would strip residents of any control.

"I don't think people would have less control (if Town Meeting is abolished), I think they would have a different type of control," he said. "What I like about the council (form of government) is that people would actually have more control."

Wilson explained his position by saying that when the Board of Selectmen hold public hearings on issues that matter to people, there tends to be a strong turnout and passionate debate. He said that in an open Town Meeting, less people tend to be involved in the discussion.

"I love those passionate debates. A lot of good things come out of those meetings," he said, adding that voters would always maintain the ultimate control at the ballot box. Wilson believes that if a council form of government were to be adopted, a workable recall procedure must be part of the checks and balances.

Moving forward, Wilson said he doesn't believe that any proposed changes to the Town Charter will be ready to present to voters at the Fall Special Town Meeting. He feels early 2012 is a more realistic target for completing a draft, having it reviewed by Town Counsel and conducting a series of public information sessions before bringing it to Town Meeting voters.

 

 

Hanson June 06, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Scott thank you for all you do for Tewksbury, from cleaning main street the other to looking at bringing town hall to the side of people. These are good initiatives but basing any input on the attendance of 20 people will not be representative of the entire town. I did not hear about these meetings until now and wish they were advertised better to increase participation. I am no a fan of the existing form of government and in full support of change. Again, I salute the effort hope to see some positive results out of the committee. Hanson Webb
Karyn June 06, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Whether you agree or not...if a change is ultimately implemented...no matter how it's spun...the bottom line is this will still take away an individual's right to vote. I do not want my choice to be taken away and left up to a seven member council....and I don't understand how "that" is "better!" Long live Open Town Meeting!
Jerry Selissen June 07, 2011 at 10:35 AM
IMO at some point Town Meeting becomes impractical! We are a Town of over 30,000 people. Ask yourself do you have real input in what happens at the State ore Federal level? Some people are what I call Political Junkies (PJs) myself included, however what about the folks who work second or third shift, what about all the single parents who spend their extra minutes taking care of their kids, what about two parent families who just don't have the time to devote to Political awareness. Are they being represented at Town Meeting or are the PJs doing that for them? Is this fair? I think the time has come to take the next step (I am not sure what that is) but we need to move on.
Sean Czarniecki June 07, 2011 at 11:03 AM
Jerry - Yes, the PJs are doing that for them....pretty much the same as if it was a town council/selectmen or a representative they voted in (or didn't vote in). The key is that if someone feels strongly about an issue, they can currently "make it happen" and get there to vote (yes, it can be difficult for those in the situations you noted). Otherwise, your only option is to contact your representative/selectmen....and try to convince them to vote the way you want them to. If the people you contact have a different view or have other constituents that want them to vote another way, your vote is never made. All you can do is wait until next election to vote for someone else....who also may not feel the way you do on certain issues. Open Town Meeting is the only way you always have the opportunity to enter a vote that is the way you want to vote....even if scheduling can sometimes cause a problem for some people.
Jerry Selissen June 07, 2011 at 02:51 PM
IMO a key element to any reform is Term Limits. People need to run for office to do what is right for the community as a whole. It should not be about ego, or $$. What you seem to be talking about is a lack of trust in elected officials. Just because they don't vote the way you want them to doesn't mean they are wrong. Sometimes there is a bigger picture and sometimes officials are aware of more than the average citizen.
Karyn June 07, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Term limits or not...a LOT of damage can be done in even three years before another election takes place. IMO, momentum and ground gained can easily be lost at the whim of a seven member council with other agendas. If an issue is important enough to them, people do attend. I agree with Sean... I much prefer to take my chance at an Open Town Meeting.
Jerry Selissen June 07, 2011 at 06:39 PM
My point exactly! It's all about the I's and not the collective we!
Jade June 07, 2011 at 07:25 PM
If it is not broken, don't fix it. This would be a a very risky thing to do to our town. We will all lose our say about anything! The good old boys will be making all of our decisions for us. Leave things as is.
Ten June 07, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Jerry- so your point has more value than the others' points?...it is 'your point,' what about that collective 'we' that you keep talking about? The word is a few SACC members have made up their minds to go for a 7 member council- doing away with Open Town Meeting- and have been looking to do this for years and now, this is in the press from our selectman. All these decisions are being made before the 'collective we' have even had a chance to give our 'so called' valuable public input. So much for that concept, the SACC already proves the point about a 7 member council- look what happens when there is too much power in the hands of too few. Decisions are made before the public input has come in. Its a joke and a mockery to democracy. Win or lose, its a sad day for our town when the selectmen chair of a committee and some members have made up their minds before all the public input has occurred. Then again, Jerry, its really not all that surprising.
Jerry Selissen June 07, 2011 at 09:49 PM
Interesting how you put words in my mouth! If you look back you will see that I was very successful at a number of Town meetings. My point is that we need to consider even those who DO NOT have a current interest or are otherwise engaged with other problems in their lives. I for one don't care what happens to Town Meeting I simply think we need to look to the future. Notice I used my REAL name!
Ten June 07, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Why would anyone bother to go to a public forum where the Chairman and several members already have their minds made up to do away with Open Town Meeting? Real name or fake- this committee is a joke and a mockery to democracy and its all right here in this article.
Bob T. June 08, 2011 at 01:46 PM
Jerry - do you count the passing of the sewer project as one of your successes at Town meeting? Just think how many more boneheaded plans would be passed if only 7 people with ulterior motives got to decide.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:21 PM
The SACC is open to suggestions to get more public input. We had three public hearings which occurred (less than 50 residents attended) and we only provided information on the three forms of government. There was no discussion about our preference, only providing information and listening to residents. After those three public hearings we had a couple meetings to discuss the public input and see if we could find a consensus. While we didn't take an official vote the committee is leaning towards proposing a modified council form of government. If you have the magic solution to get residents out to these public hearings then please let me know, but we have absolutely listened to the public and reached out to talk to anyone interested in sharing their thoughts. We have had great discussions with those who have chosen to be involved.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:21 PM
Any change we propose will still be decided by the community. Our job is to provide an option if we believe a better one exists. At this point it is clear to the committee that the RTM is not an option we want to consider. That leaves OTM (what we have) and a Council. Residents can vote to stay the way we are today (OTM) or they can support a change. This is not a personal issue to me. I am trying to look at the town of Tewksbury and see if there is an alternative. Under a council people don't lose their voice, they just use it differently. Our town has shown repeatedly that if it is a ballot vote and an important issue, people come out. Under a council residents will have a ton of say and many opportunities to challenge or veto decisions made by the council (check out the referendum process & open meeting process which exist on the draft charters). I wouldn't support a government that didn't give people a voice. There is a lot of research out there and certainly an opportunity to understand these forms of government. That is critical to making an informed decision. For instance there are 94 communities in MA that have more than 25K residents, 27 have OTM, 39 have Council and 5 have Alderman. For the committee to consider this alternative is not radical, it is part of what we were asked to do.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:22 PM
The SACC is an extremely diverse group. We have people that have been involved in the community a long time, newcomers and people that have never been involved before. A majority of the committee came in as OTM supporters. The discussions have been lively and our goal is to make things better. Unfortunately regardless of our approach, some will criticize and complain without taking the time to understand what we have done and what we are trying to do. If anyone has thoughts, concerns, suggestions – feel free to email me at s.wilson6868@gmail.com and I will be happy to read your suggestions, meet to discuss your thoughts or bring your concerns/questions to the committee.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Thanks Hanson. Next Public Hearing is June 14th at 7pm. Hope you can make it, or send others to come ask questions.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Not true. There are several checks and balances along the way. Residents still can make it happen under a council. There are many steps along the way which allow the residents to stop or change the council votes. When the budget for this year was put together, those decisions were all made prior to town meeting and then Town Meeting had the final approval. Under a council the same would occur except the final vote would be made by the council. Much of the real work takes place prior to town meeting.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Inaccurate. This committee has had three public forums and also all our meetings are open to the public where we have received input from the public. The only reason we are putting out details around the council is because residents at the last meeting asked for more information.
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 03:32 PM
No one wants to do away with Open Town Meeting. We do want to provide residents an opportunity to decide if OTM is their preference or something else is their preference.
Jerry Selissen June 08, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Bob T. Actually yes I DO! If you had "you know what"floating in your yard everytime it rained maybe it wouldn't be so boneheaded! Or just maybe if you had to pay $20,000 for a Title V system maybe you would feel differently Thanks for your construtive critism!
Christian Panasuk June 08, 2011 at 03:58 PM
OTM is a costly event to pull together 2x per year, for 600 people to vote as respresentatives of the entire town. I'd be in favor of a town council of 7pp, if the members have specific geographic "neighborhoods," they are elected by and responsible to. The members of the town council should be respresentative of their neighbors -- actually listen to what their neighbors think, and vote accordingly. Seven elected members without responsibility for specific section of town, would be beholden to their own views, agenda, and whoever they "think" their constituents are. I want to know who my council member is, meet with my neighbors & the council member about upcoming issues, etc. I live in a voting precinct -- I want a vote from that precinct on the council!
Hanson Webb June 08, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Hi Scott, I appreciate the fact that you are participating in this discussion. I appreciate your insight. My question is how are you and the town communicating with residents? 50 people to show up at your meetings out of thousands of residents is an alarming number, there is indeed a disconnect between Government and People on the large scale but I think there are ample opportunities to bridge the gap. It starts with communication and getting people to buy into the process. Does the town have an official twitter and Facebook account? if not, I think that is one way to create some momentum and solicite participation, I went to a town hall meeting last year and I was disgusted with the process: Loud fans, uncomfortable environment, people yelling over each other and town officials in complete disconnect with the public. I think that is unwelcoming process by all means and should change. For a minority (if we can even call it that) to represent the entire town in a town vote is not democratic process, case in point: last year water bill: residents voted for the rate hick just to opposite a year later, the lack of Quorum in town vote needs to be addressed if we are keeping the same form of government.
Hanson June 08, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Sorry forgot to sign my name: Hanson Webb
Bob T. June 08, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Wow ... you really don't get it do you?!?! I think you still have a lot of "you know what" floating around ... but it is not in your yard. Not everyone had septic problems. Not everyone has to pay $20,000 for a Title V system. But everyone had to pay $3000 even if they do not use it. Everyone has to pay the astronomical water bills. Everyone has to pay the astronomical sewer fees. Now everyone has to pay higher taxes too to pay for this boneheaded plan. Why can't you face it ..... even the current leadership of this town and the TM have called it a mistake. But I'm glad your problems are solved .....
Scott Wilson June 08, 2011 at 04:46 PM
The town does not have a twitter account. We have had Facebook accounts that have been created due to a specific issue but people tend to drift away. We typically use the Patch, Sun, Tewksbury Issues and the town website to get information out to the public. There are certainly many challenges, none greater than figuring out a way to engage all the different residents.
Karyn June 08, 2011 at 07:19 PM
I "could" be wrong but I believe there was some mention that the TC members would not be "precinct specific." Also discussion on whether or not current Selectmen whose terms weren't up yet at that point would be "carried over" as TC members, or if the entire seven would be newly elected. As to costs, which do you think will cost more...the two mtgs. a year or the significant and not yet addressed "monetary compensation" for SEVEN people full time which will be much higher than the tiny stipend current BOS members receive? Also, I don't believe a resident question asked last night was fully answered as to whether or not THIS CURRENT committee had looked at alternatives to IMPROVING the present system which I think would be a better and more cost effective solution & far more palatable to us diehards plus serve to encourage newbies to become more involved if they understood the TM process better. If the excuse is it's "not part of the mission statement" than I would say it "should" be. The fact that TM was streamlined & warrants were more explanatory with a glossary of terms and executive summaries added by a LONG DEFUNCT committee from the pre-internet days was not answering the question & now that warrants are no longer mailed anyway makes it pretty much a moot point IMO. I STILL disagree that this is not a RADICAL change...a person's individual VOTE, SIMPLY BY ATTENDING TOWN MTG. would be taken away...it is what it is & no amount of checks and balances will change that FACT.
Ten June 08, 2011 at 08:06 PM
Sean wrote: Open Town Meeting is the only way you always have the opportunity to enter a vote that is the way you want to vote... Scott replies: Not true My reply: Sean is 100% correct! A vote is a vote. Scott is incorrect, public input is not a vote.
Ten June 08, 2011 at 08:22 PM
Wrong, here is what the article says and anyone who saw the meeting last night knows where you and some of the other members stand on this issue. You want to do away with OTM and let 7 councilors make decisions for all voters. As for Wilson, personally, he sees the benefits of a seve-member Town Council and doesn't believe it would strip residents of any control.
Melissa Gleaton June 09, 2011 at 02:27 PM
What do the other 23 communities have?
Scott Wilson June 09, 2011 at 06:52 PM
My mistake only 71 communties over 25K in MA.

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