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Voters Soundly Defeat Proposed Charter Changes

Changes would have replaced Open Town Meeting with a Town Council forma of government.

The drama of Tuesday night's disappeared the moment the first person to speak against the proposed changes to the Town Charter received thunderous applause.

That enthusiastic ovation for former Chief Assessor Jay Kelley to start the debate was repeated multiple times throughout the evening, as several residents spoke out against the one article on the warrant.

Less than an hour later, voters made their feelings official by With that vote, residents sent a strong message that they were not ready to replace Open Town Meeting with a nine-member Town Council form of government.

The motion was made by Finance Committee Chairman Thomas Cooke, who said his committee had voted, 5-1, to recommend indefinitely postponing the article. Cooke said the Special Act Charter Committee had never provided sufficient information on how much a Town Council government would cost the town each year.

"I visited Barnstable, whose charter this was based on, and the budget for their Town Council is $354,000. Our budget for our (Board of Selectmen) right now is under $100,000," said Cooke. "When it comes to a financial component for a Town Council government, we were lacking information."

Cooke said Barnstable's additional expenses were mostly in the area of legal services and additional administrative support staff.

While Cooke and his committee were focused on the finances, most of the residents who spoke against the charter change focused on the abolition of Open Town Meeting and the loss of decision-making power for residents goes with it.

Jay Kelley said eliminating Town Meeting would remove one layer of protection residents now enjoy when it comes to government decisions that impact their lives such as tax hikes and zoning changes.

Brian Lelos alluded to the vote (initiated by a resident's motion) at Monday's Annual Town Meeting as an example of the decision-making ability residents don't want to give up.

"I couldn't have been any prouder last night," he said. "If there had been a town council, that could have gone the other way."

Charlie Lucier drew one of the loudest ovations of the night when he spoke of the men and women in armed services fighting to preserve rights such as the freedom of speech and said he was not willing to give up that right.

By the time , rose to speak in favor of the article, it was clear which way residents were leaning. O'Neil admitted the article would likely be defeated but said he was hopeful the work of the committee had started a conversation about the Town Charter that would continue.

Selectman Scott Wilson, chairman of the Special Act Charter Committee, said he was disappointed by the vote but hoped that the document that the committee had worked on for more than two years would not be filed away permanently. He said he was hopeful changes to the Town Charter would be discussed and debated moving forward, though he indicated that he would not be the person to lead the effort.

"I hope so. I don't know who the person is whose going to take that torch and run with it," said Wilson. "I still think it's right for this community to move in the direction of the council (government)."

Wilson also talked about low voter participation at town meetings, one of the reasons his committee had supported the change to a Town Council form of government. Wilson said he was gratified to see more than 600 residents show up for the Special Town Meeting Tuesday night, he noted that barely more than 100 had participated in Monday's Annual Town Meeting,

"How many are going to show up Wednesday? Probably only about 150," he said.

Selectwoman Ann-Marie Stronach said she was pleased with the vote and believed that the Town Council form of government simply wasn't right for Tewksbury at this time.

"I'm happy that residents had their voice tonight," she said.

Stronach and several other residents and town officials made the point of thanking the Special Act Charter Committee for near three years of hard work they had invested in researching and crafting the document presented.

Mary May 09, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I want to thank all of the Tewksbury residents that showed up to have their voice heard on the approval of a Town Council form of government. We can continue to have our voices heard! I was at the meeting and I think just by listening to the applauding for all that talked against the Town Council, we didn't need another person to come up at the microphone and talk it down. A vote could have been taken immediately and the outcome would have been the same. I also think Mr. Wilson was out of line talking about other subjects other then the one were there to discuss. Kudos to the gentlemen who stood up and let him know that he was out of order! This was a short meeting with a great outcome!
Scott Wilson May 09, 2012 at 12:59 PM
Mary, You have been on here criticizing everything from my appearance to my opinions. As the moderator said, I was not out of line. Simply responding to comments made by a resident that were inaccurate. This charter was about the town as a whole, not me. Time to move on. Scott
SD From T-Bury May 09, 2012 at 01:19 PM
I would like to thank the voters, Mr. Rauseo, Mr. Wilson, Mr. O'Neil and everyone else who made last night an informative, productive and great example of why Town Meeting can work! I do not feel Mr. Wilson was out of line at all and felt that the gentleman who stood was rather rude for doing so. Mr. Rauseo and Mr. Wilson handled it with class. I'm glad the vote went the way it did, but I can certainly appreciate all of the hard work of the Commitee put in on this. Last night was a proud night for Tewksbury. Hopefully it served as a wake-up call not to take our voice for granted! As one speaker said, we don't feel our voice is heard in Washington or at the State House, but at least we have a say in our town. Let's keep it! Great job by folks on both sides of the issue last night. Thank you.
SD From T-Bury May 09, 2012 at 01:21 PM
You did a fantastic job Mr. Wilson. I did vote to keep Town Meeting, but I do appreciate all that you put into that, all the questions you answered last night, and the work you do for Tewksbury. Well done.
J CAT May 09, 2012 at 01:59 PM
The SACC did a great job putting together ARTICLE 1. Selectman Wilson was very good at explaining the reasons , why this would be best for our town. However this elimination of all the registered voters to vote on specific articles after many years of working successfully worries me as the the real reason at this time there is a push for this action. especially when it is well known , that it is not wanted. If these elected officials bring this up again , in the next few years they will not get my vote. MORE INPUT / BETTER RESULTS.
Bruce Panilaitis May 09, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Thank you Scott and the other committee members for trying to bring us into a more rational form of government. Couldn't be there last night or Monday night, and can't be there tonight. I will continue to have neither a vote nor a voice.
Bob Ferrari May 09, 2012 at 07:22 PM
I don't understand why a couple of people believe Scott Wilson "was out of line" in his comments. There was nothing wrong with referencing the previous day's Town Meeting. He was using it as an example for a point he was trying to make about Town Meeting. I also was for keeping Open Town Meeting as it is, which means allowing everyone to speak on both sides of an issue.
Karyn May 09, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Wonderful turnout last night with a few notable exceptions. Couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. The people of Tewksbury have spoken loud and clear. Thanks to all who came out to prove it DOES matter. A voice can be ignored....a vote cannot.
RunningGreen May 09, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Personally, I felt that Mr. Wilson did not speak out of turn. People used the fire station vote to express their opinions on the charter change. Therefore, he was entitled to discuss said amendment in his remarks. For whatever you may think it's worth, I applaud Mr. Wilson for his calm demeanor and honesty during his tenure on the SACC. It was obviously an emotional issue, and people (including certain commenters on articles), have made their opinions rather well known. It certainly wasn't an easy task to chair a committee like that, given the topic that needed to be discussed. Mr. Wilson stated that his committee was simply trying to find a better method of government for Tewksbury, and I think they did a good job putting together the charter proposal even if I wasn't necessarily in favor of it. It obviously took a lot of work to do, and I applaud anyone who is willing to put in that type of work to try to improve the town. Thanks to Mr. Wilson and everyone on the board for their hard work!
dee May 10, 2012 at 12:22 AM
I think it was totally appropriate for Scott Wilson to comment on the fire station he was correcting a point he was not getting into a full discussion about it and the gentleman did not have to get up and say he was out of order.I am happy the vote turned the way it did.

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