By Adam Swift
The Town Council will take its most significant step yet when it takes up whether to bring proposed town charter changes before the public at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
The Ordinance Review Committee met for the better part of last year, coming up with 13 proposed changes to the town charter or town-wide ordinances.
The four proposed ordinance changes can be approved by a vote of the Town Council, but the changes to the charter need to go to the State House before a potential vote by the public during the municipal election in November.
Those proposed charter changes include several that have generated a good deal of discussion among the council and in town, including one that would change the composition of the council itself, and another that would set a recall provision for elected officials.
A number of those recommendations were made by the Ordinance Review Committee to increase participation in town government and entice more potential candidates to run for office.
The recommendations include decreasing the size of the council from nine to seven members and making all the council seats at-large with one president. Currently, there are six precinct seats, two at-large, and the council president.
The committee also recommended reversing the term lengths for the councilors, with two-year rather than four-year terms for all councilors except the president. The president, who currently serves a two-year term, would serve for four years.
Council President James Letterie noted that when the council takes up these recommendations next week, councilors will have the opportunity to amend them before they go before voters. All charter changes will need a supermajority of six votes to continue along the path to make it before voters in November.
The proposed changes also include a mechanism where the council could vote on a pay raise, but there was no amount of that potential increase suggested by the Ordinance Review Committee.
“Many of these recommendations were done by the thought to try to get more energy, more enthusiasm, more competitive races,” said Letterie.
Letterie said the council will be able to make amendments, and expected that there could be amendments to the recommendations about the composition of the council as well as the recall provision.
“One of the recommendations was to go to all at-large,” he said. “Somebody could make a motion to put that on the table, there could be an amendment to say I think it is a good idea to reduce the number to seven … but instead of six at-large and a council president, it could be six precinct and a council president.”
While several councilors have expressed support for a recall provision in the charter, they have mostly agreed that there should be a higher threshold for the recall than was included in the Ordinance Review Committee recommendation.
Letterie said he suspects when that recommendation is brought up, there will likely be an amendment to increase the number of signatures needed to enact a recall election.