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Selectmen Won't Schedule Special Town Meeting On Charter Changes ... Yet

Board instead votes to schedule two public hearings on the proposed charter changes in January.

It's rare when the Tewksbury Board of Selectmen is genuinely divided on an issue. But such was the case last night __ regarding the issue of__

The board voted, 3-2, against a motion to set a tentative date in March for a Special Town Meeting for the purpose of considering changes to the charter.

The motion had been __ and was supported by Selectman Scott Wilson, who also serves as chairman of the Special Act Charter Committee, which is recommending the proposed changes.

Johnson expressed concerns that denying the request by the SACC to schedule a Special Town Meeting after nearly two years of work might discourage residents from participating on such committees in the future.

Selectmen Doug Sears, David Gay and Anne-Marie Stronach voted against it, taking the position that there was no need to rush the process.

Instead, the board voted unanimously to schedule two public hearings in January. The hearings will offer the opportunity for additional public feedback and questions, as well as examining some of the finer points of the proposed changes and how they would impact existing boards and committees.

The biggest change being recommended by the SACC is a switch from an Open Town Meeting form of government with a five member Board of Selectmen to a nine-member Town Council form of government.

If approved by voters at a Special Town Meeting, the goal of town officials is to present the issue as a referendum question on the November Election ballot.

Mary November 30, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Keep open Town Meeting!
Karyn November 30, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Thankfully common sense prevailed on this issue.....for now. IMO, Chairman Johnson's argument about time sensitivity comparing it to the High school vote was weak at best. There was money reimbursement involved in that decision to push it (the vote) through quickly, there's 'nothing' at stake here requiring ANY type of urgency. One correction to article: it is a nine member council proposed not seven.
Mary November 30, 2011 at 10:21 PM
I thought there was a mistake with the number of proposed members. I also remember them saying nine. I am so glad also they are not rushing this issue. Everything should be out in the open before a vote.
Bill Gilman (Editor) November 30, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Sorry, typo on my part. Fixed
Bob Ferrari December 01, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Tewksbury Residents... be prepared to have your voice taken away!! If the "Special Act Charter Committee's" (SACC) has their way, Open Town Meeting will be gone and so will your voice, forever. This was an exploratory committee only, why the rush to silence your voice ?? Join the discussions on this very important matter: http://www.tewksburyissues.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=9468&start=405 Bob Ferrari Webmaster of TewksburyIssues.org
Bill Gilman (Editor) December 01, 2011 at 08:05 PM
People should definitely engage in conversation, whether it be here or on Tewksbury Issues. But let's stick to the issue itself ... the merits of each case. To make blanket accusations regarding motives is neither productive nor fair. People of good character can disagree strongly on a particular issue. Case in point, the founding fathers engaged in heated debates over issues such as form of government, taxation etc. On the Special Act Charter Committee, intense political adversaries sat side by side and worked together on the recommendation. It is my hope that there will be a huge turnout at the hearings scheduled in January. People with strong feelings both for and against these recommendations have an obligation to show up and make their opinions known. Then they need to participate in the Democratic process by showing up at the Special Town Meeting and voting. And then they need to show up at the election and cast their ballot. This is an emotional issue for many people but this is also a very serious matter. It involves the long term future of Tewksbury. There is no room and no time to waste on name-calling and rhetoric. Moving forward, it's my hope that the leaders who emerge both for and against these recommendations follow the example being set by the members of the Board of Selectmen and conduct themselves in a respectful, responsible manner. In short, debate the issue and not the personalities.
Jim Wentworth December 01, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Thanks Bill. There are a lot of strong opinions on here and TewksburyIssues. I'm with you, I hope there is a huge turnout to discuss this issue. My fear is that we get the same turnout as we've had at every open town meeting.....less than 1% of registered voters.
Ten December 02, 2011 at 01:30 AM
Taking away a vote. No emotion involved. Open Town Meeting form of Town Government, where any registered voters can vote, versus a 9 member Council form of City Government, where voters have a voice. We have seen what a voice means at a public meeting- nothing, unless you are a voting member of the Selectmen. At Open Town Meeting, a vote is a vote, where all are counted, and equally too. Amazingly very simple! Let's not be on a river in Egypt about the SACC's attitude about the voters of this town. The SACC has already said on TV, that they think that we do not know what we are doing at Town Meeting and we aren't as knowledgeable on topics as we should be. Really? The SACC think that elected councilors will know better how to vote on topics than the 'uninformed,' and 'not so knowledgeable' voters, so they want to take away our votes. Amazingly simple. We should consider ourselves below their intellectual level and hand over our vote. All 18,000 registered voters in the town, let's hand over our votes to 9 people. Even at about 200 votes- elected and appointed officials and residents- at Open Town Meeting, there is over 20 times the representation of the town at Open Town Meeting than by a 9 member Council. As someone asked at one of the TV SACC meetings, "You're not really serious, are you?"
Karyn December 02, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Couldn't have put it better myself.....WELL SAID, Ten!
Jim Wentworth December 02, 2011 at 03:22 AM
All I ask if we let all 18,000+ voters decide what form of government they believe is best for the future of our town? The SACC has provided an educated and researched-based option for us to consider. I'm hoping that our elected BOS doesn't deny us the opportunity to vote on it at open town meeting.
Bill Gilman (Editor) December 02, 2011 at 03:29 AM
Jim I think that is one point everyone is in agreement on. This matter should be decided on both at Town Meeting AND in a ballot vote. And let the majority rule.
Bill Gilman (Editor) December 02, 2011 at 03:36 AM
Here's an interesting question --- There are folks out there that would like to see a switch to a Town Council ... there are folks out there that would like to see things stay as they are. BUT ... is there anyone out there that would like to see an expanded open town meeting? That is to say to reverse the changes that were made 25 years ago when the "Town Manager" position was established. Or I guess a better question might be -- What issues and decisions should be made by voters at Town Meeting and what, if any, decisions should be made by a town manager and a board of selectmen? In theory, the charter could be changed in such a way that the town manager position and and the Board of Selectmen could be abolished and all decisions (licenses, permits, hirings, firings, etc.) could all be done at Open Town Meeting.
Jim Wentworth December 02, 2011 at 04:20 AM
Bill, Not quite everyone. Unfortunately, based upon the votes on Tuesday, a few members of the BOS have denied us that opportunity.
Ten December 02, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Jim, I disagree that the SACC "provided an educated and researched-based option for us to consider." The SACC report provided only what they wanted us to hear. Fortunately, 3 of 5 Selectmen who could see this, voted accordingly. ( I think they all could see it.) Its uncomfortable to say and hear, but it is a shame that the SACC submitted a biased report, focused on their goal and not the mission as spelled out by the BOS. My hope is that 18,000+ voters of the town will get a chance to hear all information about this topic, before they vote- not after. Again, as uncomfortable as it was, I think that the BOS did the right thing by providing an opportunity for this to happen.
Bill Gilman (Editor) December 02, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Jim, I wouldn't take that vote as the three selectmen denying a Special Town Meeting vote. I'm of the feeling all of them agree there should be a vote. The only questions is when. Ten, it's a big leap to say that you are certain what the directive was for the SACC. There seems to be no consensus from the selectmen and the members of the committee as to what the directions were. Was it merely to gather information on multiple choices and give all the info to the Selectmen? Was it to make a recommendation based on information gathered? Or was it to make a recommendation AND draft the potential changes. I can tell you I have dealt with charter committees in three other towns and in all of them, the committee has, at least, made recommendations. I also think you need to re-think your "power grab" comment. I'm confused by something you said. Are you saying that every member that was appointed to that committee went in with a pre-determined goal to abolish town meeting? That seems hard to believe. Also, I'm not sure it's accurate to say that all of the members of the committee have something to gain by abolishing town meeting.
Karyn December 02, 2011 at 04:51 PM
IMO, Ten is closer to the truth than you might think....and I would say your "FIRST two questions" as to their directive were correct, Bill. It wasn't until the beginning of this year that this proposal really took off under the Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Wilson change in chairmanship. Then it (the draft) totally transformed AGAIN with the addition of the "charter guru" woman from Boston and citizen recourse hurdles were placed even higher. The Chairman has admitted the "the committee decided to go with a Town Council" as the best alternative but to this day has not answered "why" and no one had a 'legitimate' answer to Selectman Stronach's question as to "had any measures been currently explored by the SACC to improve on the current system of Open Town Meeting." I still contend that Mr. O'Neill being the "author" of this proposal is a conflict of interest given his professional position in this Town. I, too applaud the 3 selectman who at least put the brakes on this and look forward to the next round of "public input hearings" by the Town Boards /Committees AFTER the holidays and BEFORE any Special Town Meeting is considered to be scheduled.
Scott Wilson December 02, 2011 at 05:49 PM
You keep talking about the unreasonable recourse hurdles.....Since 1995 there have been only 2 annual town elections where the 15% voter turnout was not met (14% & 13%). So the 15% voter turnout threshold is not an unreasonable number. That is 13 our of 15 elections that the threshold was met.
Scott Wilson December 02, 2011 at 06:03 PM
The SACC report to the Board of Selectman was a report with our suggested change to the form of government in Tewksbury. It was not intended to be biased. It was a summary of the work done over the last 30 months. As a committee we held public hearings to help get public input on what they wanted and then we held more public hearings this fall to show our product. Any suggestion by people that a committee of 9 residents came into this looking to dissolve town meeting is ludicrous. This committee in September of 2010 actually had two proposals together, one a hybrid form of OTM and another was the council. At that time they were asked to work on their proposal, make it a great document and to focus and commit to what they believed was right for the town.
Scott Wilson December 02, 2011 at 06:03 PM
At the time, the committee was thinking we should take the baby step of modifying town meeting while believing in their heart that we needed to move to a council. When I took over as chairman of this committee, we had to first redo several meetings and then we voted on how we should proceed. The draft which existed in January (prior to me joining this committee) has changed but not significantly. Your characterization on how things have gone is inaccurate. The WHY? Answer has been provided many times. I can’t change the reasons because you don’t like WHY we chose to go this route. As a committee, based on our research we believe that a council would provide better representation and would allow for a more consistent legislative body in Tewksbury which would make decisions based on the a view of the entire town. Some of the special interest votes in Tewksbury are not in the best interest of the town and we believe this would allow for a better decision making process.
Scott Wilson December 02, 2011 at 06:04 PM
As to changes to improve town meeting….what are your recommendations. That was not our mission. My biggest problem with town meeting is that people don’t come. If you have a solution to that, please share. I think many of the changes made to town meeting over the last 15 years have streamlined it and made it more efficient. But that doesn’t change the less than 2% turnout. I would ask you how many warrant articles have been supported by the majority of the BOS and then went to Town Meeting floor and were voted against by the electorate? Are the residents typically voting the same way that the BOS are voting? People need to take time to understand the proposal, and not throw out suggestions of conflict of interest or personal gain. I can’t understand for the life of me what I have to gain out of a council vs. a BOS. I actually think about this proposal as what would I want if I were a resident in town. What would I want when I am not sitting as a member of the BOS.
Ten December 02, 2011 at 06:51 PM
Bill, (I'll try to reply point by point.) I re-read the mission, it seems very clear and I agree with the 3 BOS who stood up for it. Why do you want to compare other town's charter committees to ours? Other town's SACCs and their missions have no baring on this issue. Where is my "power grab" comment? I do not recall ever saying that. In the interest of accuracy, I will re-word something, so the question is- Did I think SOME of the SACC members had a "pre-determined goal"? Why does that even matter at this point? Who says they cannot have a "pre-determined goal"? Its not a crime. Did I say that SACC members have something to gain by abolishing open town meeting? I do not recall saying that. I have some questions. When did the SACC discuss and vote to recommend to the BOS that our town do away with open town meeting and move to a city form of government? (I am assuming they did this at some point because they spent so much time, effort and town resources drafting a new charter to do it, although I've never heard or read anything about it.) Also, what were the reasons and what were the vote splits, if any? We all know the end result, I am wondering how it all came to be. Not having seen or attended all the meetings, I would appreciate it if anyone can answer these questions.
Ten December 02, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Special Act Charter Committee Mission (SACC): To examine our current local government structure and to investigate the following forms of government; the Open Town Meeting, the Representative Town Meeting and a Town Council Format, including the efficiency and cost effectiveness of each and to prepare a preliminary report to the Board of Selectman within 18 months of the formulation of the April 2009 Special Act Charter Committee.
Bill Gilman (Editor) December 02, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Excellent point Ten. It certainly appears that the original mandate called for a "compare and contrast" report and did not call for a recommendation. So the question remains, at what point did that directive change ... or did it? Was there an assumption that the committee would submit a recommendation after evaluating all three forms? That seems to be where town officials differ. Now, there have definitely been changes to that directive. For example, the 18 month window was, in fact, extended.
Ten December 02, 2011 at 07:33 PM
“Only that dawn breaks to which we are awake” ― Henry David Thoreau

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