Charter changes heading to TM

Sep 12, 2018 by

Published in the September 12, 2018 edition

By MARK SARDELLA

WAKEFIELD — The Charter Review Committee has finalized its list of recommended changes to the Town Charter. Members of the committee met with the Town Council on Monday to discuss those recommendations and Town Counsel Thomas Mullen is in the process of putting those recommendations in the form of articles that will be presented at the Nov. 5 Regular Town Meeting.

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 Carney, Houghton, 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. 

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.

The Charter Committee is also recommending moving the Town Election to the second Tuesday in April so that it wouldn’t fall so close to school vacation. Another idea — to move the Town Election to coincide with the state and federal elections in the fall — was not recommended by the Charter Committee.

The Charter Committee also recommends changing “10 business days” to “12 calendar days” for certain town business such as deadlines for filing petitions for referendum elections on Town Meeting articles. This was done to remove any question as to which days are counted for these purposes.

Related to that, the Charter Committee recommends raising the threshold for the number of petition signatures required to bring a Town Meeting article to a townwide election vote. The recommendation is to raise that number from the current 200 signatures to 5 percent of the total number of registered voters.

Another of the recommendations that the Charter Review Committee is putting forward 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, who felt that appointing qualified assessors would be better, as the job requires a certain level of expertise. 

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 also recommends changing the composition of the committee that appoints replacements to fill vacancies on the Finance Committee. Currently, one member of the FinCom Selection Committee is the “past chairman” of the FinCom. The Charter Review Committee recommends changing that to be the current FinCom chairman. They also recommended a time limit for filling vacancies on the Finance Committee.

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. This would be done in addition to paper notices.

Recommended changes to the Charter section on the Board of Health would bring that section in line with the way that the Board of Health actually conducts business.

The Charter Committee also recommends some other 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.

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 committee is also recommending some minor grammatical changes that are not substantive as well as other changes to reflect consistency in language.

The Charter Review Committee decided against recommending elimination of the Advisory Board of Public Works in favor of keeping the status quo.

They also did not recommend eliminating the secret ballot option for Town Meeting votes.

A proposal to require a two-thirds majority at a referendum election to overturn a Town Meeting vote was also not recommended.

Carney said that a televised, public presentation to explain the proposed Town Meeting related to the Charter is planned for Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the WCAT studio.

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