The Town Council will be asked to decide who should appoint certain members of the Community Preservation Committee – the Council itself or the Town Manager.
The Community Preservation Committee will make recommendations on how Watertown’s Community Preservation Act (CPA) money will be spent. The Town Council ultimately approves the projects, which must fall into at least one of three categories – affordable housing, historic preservation and open space/recreation.
Towns and cities can decide who will be part of their Community Preservation Committee, but five positions are mandated by the state statues: member of the Planning Board, a member of the Conservation Commission, a member of the Historical Commission, a member of the Housing Authority Board and a member of the Parks Commission. Those members are chosen by their respective board or committee.
Watertown does not have a Parks Commission, so the Council’s Rules and Ordinances subcommittee decided Monday night to have someone who “acts in the capacity or performs like duties of the Board of Park Commissioners.”
There will also be four other positions on the board. The original proposal was for all four to be members of the public. On Monday, the subcommittee brought up whether to have just three members of the public and the fourth be a Town employee, but the subcommittee did not make a decision.
How the four additional members (the members of the public and Town employee) will be chosen also remains undecided.
Other non-elected committees and boards have their members interviewed by the Town Manager, who submits a recommendation to the Council. A subcommittee interviews the finalist and the Council then approves the appointment.
Councilors noted that they don’t know who else applied for a position besides the person selected by the Town Manager. Councilor Aaron Dushku said perhaps this might be something to discuss during the next Town Charter review.
Councilor Ken Woodland, chair of the Rules and Ordinances Committee, said he did not see a reason for the Community Preservation Committee should be like other committees and have the Town Manager appoint members.
“What is special about this committee that makes it different from everything else?” Woodland said.
A Councilor Lisa Feltner, who sits on the Rules and Ordinances Committee, said that this is a new pot of money, and she said it is important to show that will be spent differently from other town funds.
“When I was campaigning people did not want to vote for this if it was just going to go into the general fund,” Feltner said.
She added that communities where the CPA has been a success have had people appointed by the Council or even a special committee, not by a mayor or town manager.
Resident Ann Spitzer agreed, saying that it is important to get new people involved and to do that their needs to be “a perception that this is something different.”
Woodland argued that one of the reasons why Watertown switched from a Town Meeting form of government to one with a Town Council and Town Manager was because appointments became too political and were about who you knew, not if you were qualified.
Resident Michelle Cokonougher said that the Town Charter says that there is no requirement for committees to be appointed by the Town Manager, adding that there is room for using another way to select members.
Because the debate stretched on, and if the Council ends up being the appointing authority there are several options for how it would be structured, Woodland suggested going to the full Town Council to ask whether they favor having the Council or the Town Manager appoint members of the Community Preservation Committee. The subcommittee approved that motion 3-0
If they favor the Council appointing members then the Rules and Ordinances Committee can explore whether the entire Council should interview candidates, or a subcommittee, or a new group be formed.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said he is not opposed to the Council appointing the members, but he did not like the idea of a subcommittee being in charge of it.
Councilor Susan Falkoff said she would like to hear from the director of the statewide Community Preservation Coalition to come speak to the Council about what has worked best with CPAs.
“I don’t know the whole universe of what’s out there,” Falkoff said.
Sideris added that there is not a big rush to get the Community Preservation Committee appointed and running because the funds will not start to come in until Jan. 1, 2017 and it will take time after that before it can be spent.