Charter Committee provides update

Jun 14, 2018 by

Published in the June 14, 2018 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The eight-member Charter Review Committee has met 18 times since January 2017 as it examines the Town Charter for areas that may need to be changed or tweaked. Members of the committee met with the Town Council this week to discuss their work to date.

Chairman John Carney and Vice Chair Allyson Houghton made the presentation, with most members of the Charter Review Committee also in attendance. The committee includes John Carney, chairman; Allyson Houghton, vice chair; Eric Reid, secretary; Ann Santos (Town Council liaison); Andy Bray;
Stacey Constas; John DiTonno; Christopher Fowlie and Susan Wetmore.

The Town Charter must be reviewed every 10 years. Carney and Houghton said that the committee’s goals were to review the Charter, receive input from the public, make recommendations to the Town Council and present at Town Meeting.

Carney noted that that 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. Carney said that Town Counsel Thomas Mullen reads this to mean that a charter review committee cannot recommend moving to a representative town meeting or that 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 putting forward calls for the three-member Board of Assessors to be appointed by Town Council, rather than elected, as is currently the case. This change was proposed by the present Board of Assessors.

Another recommendation 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 in line with current practices. The Charter language would be changed to reflect that the Town Administrator hires the Health Director, after consultation with the Board of Health. The Charter language 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 recommending 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, Houghton said, would be to move the Town Election to November to coincide with state and national elections.

Regarding Town Meeting, the Charter Committee recommends 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. Carney said that the secret ballot idea dates back to concerns over public votes related to the Quinn Bill. He said that the committee felt that the secret ballot was not necessary at Town Meeting.

Another change recommended in order to reflect current practice would allow email as a legitimate form of delivery of information and notices in the course of town business. The Charter Committee also recommends 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 would change 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 recommends some changes to Charter language. One would change 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 recommending some minor grammatical changes that are not substantive and minor changes to reflect consistency in language.

Carney and Houghton reviewed the next steps in the charter review process. One is to present the proposed changes on the town website along with a PowerPoint presentation and request comments and input from the public. A cable TV presentation is also planned, as well as a public hearing in the fall.

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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