Town Charter Review, Noise Ordinance Discussions Delayed by Council

Watertown Town Hall

On a night where the Town Council voted to approve the purchase of a new radios for the Fire Department and the BlueBike stations, the Council postponed discussions of a couple major items: the Town Charter review and proposed changes to the Noise Ordinance.

The Town Charter review occurs every 10 years in years ending in zero, while the Noise Ordinance has been debated and discussed for more than a year. Town Council President Mark Siders said he has concerns about holding such important meetings under the restrictions of the state’s COVID-19 rules which limit in-person gatherings to 25 people.

A subcommittee report on the Aug. 11 Noise Ordinance was read by the Council Tuesday night. The proposed changes include limiting the level of noise, and the length of time a noise is allowed depending on the decibel level. It also sets a time that “Noises which disturb the reasonable quiet, comfort, repose, or health of others,” are not allowed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. (see the draft recommendation by clicking here).

During Tuesday’s meeting, resident Russ Arico said that he believes contractors should be given 5 years to acquire new equipment or modify their current equipment to comply with the proposed ordinance requirements.

In the committee’s report, Recreation Director Peter Centola said he does not agree with the rule that no amplified music would be allowed without a permit from the town, and asked if that would apply to a someone playing music on a cell phone while their child plays at a playground.

Resident Elodia Thomas, who began working toward changing the noise ordinance in 2013, requested that the Town Council vote on the changes at the next Council meeting.

While the joint Human Services and Rules & Ordinances subcommittees voted 5-1 to recommend that the full Council approve the changes, the item was not brought up for a vote at Tuesday’s Council meeting. Sideris said he wants to have a meeting dedicated to the subject where people can give their comments on the changes.

“I do recognize this is a very important issue, worked on for a long time by a number of different councilors and many members of the community,” Sideris said. “It is extremely difficult to do an ordinance like this in a Zoom meeting.”

Sideris said the 25 person limit makes it tough to include everyone. He said they may do a meeting where some people attend in person and others by computer. He wants to allow everyone to have an opportunity to speak.

Town Charter Review

The Charter Review looks at the document that defines how Watertown’s government operates (see the Town Charter by clicking here). The Charter lays out the type of government — currently a strong Town Manager with a Town Council — how members of committees are elected or appointed, the length of terms and other details.

The Charter Review was not on Tuesday’s agenda, but it is supposed to be completed in 2020. Before the pandemic Sideris interviewed people interested in serving on the Charter Review Commission. He said that six community members would be on the commission along with the Town Councilors, and that the group would go through the charter line by line.

On Tuesday, Sideris said he hopes to appoint community members soon, and begin meeting in late-September or early-October.

“As I stated with the Noise Ordinance, with an important issue like the Charter I had serious concerns about all the Zoom meetings we’ve had, and I had serious concerns about starting the Charter Review process during the pandemic,” Sideris said.

Councilor John Gannon said that he read the Charter and saw that the review must take place in 2020. He asked what happens if it is not finished by the end of the year. Sideris said they will start discussions and see how it goes.

“I would intend to see how we go along,” Sideris said. “We do need to start the process. I would never put a time limit on it, but if it does come to the point I recognize (more time is needed) we can do that and it would require a vote of the Council.”

The Charter calls for the Charter Review as a periodic review of the document. Changes to the Charter can be “replaced, revised or amended in accordance with any procedure made available under the state constitution, or by statutes enacted in accordance with the state constitution,” the Charter reads.

Any amendments proposed by the Charter commission must be approved by two-thirds (2/3) of the Town Council and then must be approved by voters at the next town election.

Town Councilors and the Town Manager can also propose amendments. So can residents if they get 50 signatures of registered voters to support the petition for the amendment in the case of the town the size of Watertown (population between 12,000 and 50,000). In these cases, the amendments would also need approval from two-thirds of the Town Council to be put on the ballot for final approval from voters.

According to Mass. General Law, a town charter can be revised if a petition with signatures of 15 percent of the total registered voters in town (as of the last state election), is filed with the Town Clerk. The Clerk’s office provides the documents needed to file the petition.

If a sufficient number of signatures are certified, then the petition will go to the Council which will put the proposal on the ballot during a Town election. See the Home Rule section of Mass. General Law by clicking here.

16 thoughts on “Town Charter Review, Noise Ordinance Discussions Delayed by Council

    • You clearly don’t remember the great re doing of the roads from dawn till dusk waking people up at 6am! Or have never had your neighbor working on their house for a year.

  1. The Town Charter Review that is required by law to take place every 10 years has been postponed. It must happen in 2020, and, with the pandemic, it will be a rush job to get it done by year-end. Plus, the committee was been chosen while ago, but it has not been made public.

    Why aren’t the names of the Charter Review Committee being released well ahead of the committee convening? Citizens should be made aware of who those citizens are, and those citizens should take the pulse of the community before beginning their review.

    I realize charter review is a long and painstaking process, but only 6 people plus the small council representing a town of 36,000 (or thereabouts) people isn’t enough to decide about making changes a great many desire to see so we can make our government more responsive to its citizens. This whole process lacks adequate representation and transparency. Input from the populace is missing. The names should be released asap…. especially since they were all chosen by only one individual from those expressing interest.

    Does anyone else feel as I do about this?

  2. I agree with Rena regarding Charter Review and Jack on dogs barking. I am sick of the citizens of Watertown being ignored.
    Charlie B. many issues in this Town are not transparent. Please explain what you are stating above, Charlie you are not clear on your statement. Can you give more of an explanation?

    • The Council President chooses the members and the members have not been chosen yet. He mentioned checking with people to see if they want to serve on the committee.

      As far as the 6 members, the Charter spells out the make up of the Review Committee, the Council and 6 community members.

  3. Will the Town Council bring in a consultant such as the Collins Center of UMass Boston to facilitate community education and open discussion regarding the Charter Review? Do you, citizens of Watertown have ideas as to what you’d like to see improved? The committee will consist of 9 Town Councilors plus 6 Appointed Residents. Will there be a deep discussion as to how our government is working or not working? How do we insure robust citizen participation under Covid conditions?

    Watertown has changed so much in the last 10 years. We need to step up to the challenges ahead with transparency and thoughtful ideas. We have been a city since 1980 yet we still call ourselves The City Known the Town of Watertown. Many do not understand our city form of government.

    Do you have concerns, questions, changes you’d like to see? The Charter Review is a major task folks. It occurs every 10 years. Get informed. Get involved. You can start by reading the Town Charter

  4. This year, our city will have the opportunity to review how our government works or doesn’t work for us, and make constructive changes to our Town Charter, a chance that comes only once every 10 years. As a city in Massachusetts (we are legally “the city of the town of Watertown”—go figure), we have two basic choices of government: mayor/council or town manager/council. Within those two forms, however, there are many ways to set the governing details.

    Watertown has experienced rapid growth over the last 10 years, and there doesn’t seem to be a slowdown in sight. This growth has laid bare some serious problems in our governing model. While most of us understand and welcome smart growth, many long-time residents are frustrated with the lack of long-term planning, transparency and follow-through. There is a dearth of expertise; we need new people who bring relevant experience and creative solutions to today’s problems.

    These problems have existed for many years, but our government doesn’t seem to be able to really address them. Our Town Council representatives are virtually volunteer and overwhelmed. The Boards are beholden to the manager and Planning and operate on an entirely volunteer basis. All of them have other lives or jobs and a limited amount of time and energy to give. We need more dedicated professionals who can respond to the pressures this town is experiencing.

    We have created a master planning document, along with design guidelines, but these have turned out to be grossly inadequate in their application. Cookie-cutter architecture that is too big for the space or the adjacent neighborhood, built too close to the nearest established homes or roads, bio-labs, whatever the latest big money-making schemes are popular—Watertown is smack in developers’ sights.

    Our zoning needs serious updating, but it seems only developers are asking for changes that of course benefit their particular project, and those changes get approved quickly. But it takes over 3 years for the Town Council to update our noise ordinance, our lighting is 50 years behind and no councilor is taking the initiative, and we are losing many of our older, classic homes to cheap new construction.

    Some other concerned citizens and myself had an opportunity to meet and talk with a member of the Collins Institute from UMass/Boston last year. This group specializes in helping cities and towns around Massachusetts rethink their charters. The person we spoke with had an encyclopedic knowledge of local governments. By the end of our conversation, we felt without a doubt that Watertown should not proceed with the charter review without a group like this to help us understand our options. This idea was presented to the Council late last year, but not all the councilors recognize this help could be beneficial. While we greatly appreciate the time and service that our Town Councilors give, still none of our them have the expertise to lead the charter review in the exploratory direction it needs to go.

    There is extra money this year that will more than cover this expense. We can’t afford not to get help. Whether we want it to or not, Watertown will become a very different town in the next 10 years. Do we want some control over how this happens?

    If you think our government could do better, please write to your councilors, tell them your concerns and ask them to hire the outside, neutral help we need to conduct a thorough and constructive charter review.

    Marcia Ciro
    Sarah Ryan

  5. Marcia and Sarah Thank you for such a well written reply. I agree that Watertown has grown so much and so fast that as a city we need help in understanding all our options. I support hiring the Collins Center to help us as a City make the changes necessary to be a great place to live again.

  6. Excessive noise? I can’t hear a thing over the roar of jet engines taking off from Logan. The flights over Fresh Pond, the Oakley CC, Watertown Square are nearly constant on the worst days, sometimes as often as one every minute or so. It might be understandable if this were Southie or Hull, but we’re eight miles away. And it didn’t use to be this bad. The moment I hear barking dogs over the din of 747s at full throttle I’ll let you know.

  7. This is a city& you have to expect noise! For Watertown to keep growing, there will be alot of noise. I live on Pleasant St., where there is constant noise, although alot is getting done, thats’ how it is! Im’ used to it ! Residents should stop complaining, work has to get done!!! You can always move out to the country, where silence is golden! Barking dogs are a small part of the noise! Thats’ city life !!! Grin& bear it??

  8. It should not be that hard to come up with a reasonable noise ordinance. No thump thump of amplified bass line after 10pm. No beep of truck backing up before 7 am and no power tools/construction for one full weekend day. I would also recommend we limit leaf blowers to few “clean up” weekends as other towns have done. They are horribly noisy and spew exhaust.

  9. No complaints here, each city should have reasonable noise ordinance! Many cities have ordinances: Somerville, Newton, Cambridge… cities are places where people live and grow. There should always be a balance between quality of life and noise/noise pollution.
    I’m all for a good ordinance where I don’t have to yell over the sounds of someone playing very loud music or machinery at very early or late hours. This is not only a city but our home.

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