Charter Committee seeks comments

Jul 9, 2018 by

Published in the July 9, 2018 edition.

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — The Charter Review Committee is seeking comments on changes to the Town Charter that the committee contemplates proposing to Regular Town Meeting in the fall. Comments are being accepted in writing via mail or by email at Charter.Comments@Wakefield.ma.us.

Residents can view a PowerPoint presentation of the changes that are under consideration on the town’s web site at http://www.wakefield.ma.us/. There is also a video of the Charter Committee’s presentation to the Town Council on June 11. The page can be found on the home page of the town’s web site under the heading “Town News,” or go directly to http://www.wakefield.ma.us/home/news/request-for-comments-charter-review-committee-findings.

The eight-member Charter Review Committee has been meeting since January 2017 as it examines the Town Charter for areas that may need to be changed or tweaked. The Town Charter must be reviewed every 10 years.

Under state law, only a charter commission can propose changes relating in any way to the composition, mode of election or appointment or terms of office of the legislative body or the Town Council. So the Charter Review Committee cannot recommend moving to a representative town meeting or the number of councilors or the length of their terms or the means of electing them (e.g., by precincts or at large) be revised.

One of the recommendations that the Charter Review Committee is considering calls for the three-member Board of Assessors to be appointed by the Town Council, rather than elected, as is currently the case. This change was proposed by the present Board of Assessors.

Another possibility involves changing the Town Moderator’s term from one year to three years. It is currently the only elected town office that has a one-year term. The Charter Committee would also establish a time limit set by the moderator to fill vacancies on the Finance Committee.

Another change is being considered that would bring the Charter language in line with current practices. The language in the Charter would be changed to reflect that the Town Administrator hires the Health Director, after consultation with the Board of Health. The Charter would also reflect that the Town Administrator appoints the staff of the Health Department, upon recommendation of the Health Director.

Another proposed Charter change would eliminate the Advisory Board of Public Works and clarify that the Board of Selectmen are responsible for setting the water and sewer rates and all matters regarding Public Works.

The Charter Committee is also weighing changes to the way that elections are conducted locally. One possibility would move the Town Election to the second Tuesday in April so that it wouldn’t fall so close to school vacation. Another possibility would be to move the Town Election to November to coincide with state and national elections.

Regarding Town Meeting, the Charter Committee has been looking at moving Annual Town Meeting to later in the Spring – the second Monday of May — to allow for more accurate estimate of state revenue and costs.

Another Town Meeting-related proposal would eliminate the secret ballot option of voting at Town Meeting. The secret ballot idea dates back to concerns over public votes related to the Quinn Bill.

Another possible change would incorporate current practice by allowing email as a legitimate form of delivery of information and notices in the course of town business. The Charter Committee also suggests changing “business days” to “calendar days” for purpose of filing deadlines and/or counting days for town business.

With regard to the town budget process, the Charter Committee suggests changing the timing of when the preliminary budget is adopted by the School Committee and then submitted to the Town Administrator, from 90 days to 60 days.

The Charter Committee also suggests some changes to Charter language. One would modify the language related to the Housing Authority to reflect current state law. Language relating to library staff would be changed to accurately reflect a lack of clerical staff at Library. Another change would remove “Recreation Department” from the powers and duties of the DPW. The Recreation Department reports to the Town Administrator.

The committee is also considering recommending some minor grammatical changes that are not substantive and minor changes to reflect consistency in language.

In addition to seeking written comments via mail and email, the Charter Review Committee plans to hold a public hearing in the fall on a date to be announced.

After the Charter Committee finalizes and votes on recommended changes, it is expected that they will present those changes at the fall Regular Town Meeting.

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