Charter Change Recommendations Make Way to Full Town Council

By Adam Swift

The long process for a potential update to the town charter took a big step forward at last week’s Town Council meeting.

Marc Chapdelaine, chair
of the Ordinance Review Committee (ORC), presented recommendations for charter changes and other town ordinances to the Town Council, and it’s now up to the council to determine how it wants to move forward with the recommendations.

Some of the bigger ticket items discussed last week included changes in the length of terms for councilors, recall provisions, and the composition of the Town Council.

According to Council President James Letterie, next steps in the process could include additional council meetings to discuss the recommendations before the council decides which recommendations to accept, reject, or revise; public input; and a potential town-wide vote on the revised town charter at next year’s municipal election in November.

“This is the very beginning of the process on the council level,” said Letterie. “We have gone through six months on the ORC, and we’ve gone through almost a month on the rules and ordinance (subcommittee).”

Council Vice President Stephen Ruggiero, who chairs the rules and ordinance subcommittee, updated the full council on the recommendations from the ORC that the subcommittee recommended for approval.

The subcommittee backed recommendations relative to the charter’s abandonment clause for town officials, making the charter the binding document for the town, the filling of vacancies, and several motions related to language related to the timing of the town budget.

“There was a motion that was amended … the recommendation which discusses the composition of the council, and it was amended to read that the only part that was recommended to be accepted was changing the term of the councilors from four years to two years, (except for) the council president,” said Ruggiero.

The ORC also recommended changing the composition of the Town Council from its current nine members to seven members. Currently, the council has a president, two at-large members, and six precinct councilors. The ORC recommended the council be reduced to six at-large councilors and a council president.

Ruggeiro said there was still some discussion to be had on other recommendations made by the ORC, including refining the details on a citizens’ recall provision.

Letterie was among the councilors who noted that if there was a move to two-year terms for the council, it would largely negate the need for the recall provision at the council level, since the shorter terms would serve as de facto recall insurance with elections every two years.

The council also debated the benchmark a recall provision would need to attain, with some councilors suggesting that a recall petition would need a number of signatures equal to 50 percent of the turnout of the previous municipal election.

“The size and the scope of the Town Council, I think that was the biggest one we heard about,” said Chapdelaine. “The problem we saw was that there was not enough participation in people wanting to run.”

Chapdelaine said there were a couple of ways to incentivize participation, one of which was increasing council pay, and the other was lowering the term from four to two years.

He said that a new councilor stepping into the role may not be comfortable with a longer term or know where they will be in four years. 

Conversely, Chapedelaine said there were benefits to be had from extending the council president term from two to four years.

“If we had a longer Town Council President term, it would allow some of the bigger projects to get done,” he said. “It also brings better accountability. By having two-year councilors and a four-year Town Council President, you essentially have a midterm election for that Town Council President.

“What more of a referendum could you have on a Town Council President than to have your entire council under you being up for reelection?”

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