The 15 members of the Charter Review Committee met for the first time Tuesday night, including the six residents appointed to serve on the group that will make recommendations for how to change the document described as the Town’s constitution.
An overview of charter reviews was presented during the virtual meeting by attorney Lauren Goldberg of KP Law, who said the amendments to the Watertown Home Rule Charter could be as minor as changing the wording and fixing grammar and as major as changing the form of government (such as having a mayor or going to a Town Meeting) or changing the way members of a board are selected from elected to appointed.
Depending on the magnitude of the change, Goldberg said, the final approval may only need approval of the Town Council and approved by the State Legislature for a small change or having a ballot measure to be approved by Watertown voters for big alteration.
The committee will get help during the review from the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass-Boston, which studies municipal governments in Massachusetts and across the country. Town Council President Mark Sideris said that he hopes to have someone from the Collins Center at the next meeting, on Oct. 20. The Town received a cost estimate for the work, Sideris said, and Town Manager Michael Driscoll will have to come back to the Town Council with a proposal for how to fund it.
The Town will be setting up a webpage dedicated to the Charter Review so residents can find information about the process, what happened at past meetings and about upcoming ones. Sideris expects it to be set up soon after Watertown’s new Chief Information Officer starts on Oct. 19. Also, people will be able to sign up to receive “notify me” emails from the Town about the Charter Review.
The Charter Review Committee consists of the nine Town Councilors, plus six members of the public appointed by the Town Council President. The make up is spelled out in the Town Charter. The six resident members are Bill Oates, Jonathan Hecht, Marcia Ciro, Anne Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Mello and Leo Martin.
Oates served on Town Meeting and was elected to the Board of Health before Watertown adopted the city form of government. He was on the first Town Council elected by the Town and later was elected to the School Committee. Professionally he worked on the Boston Mayor’s cabinet under Tom Menino, and worked as chief information officer for Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration. He also is and attorney and management consultant.
Hecht is nearing the end of 12 years serving as State Representative for most of Watertown. Before that he served as Town Councilor, but never participated in a Charter Review. He is also an attorney, but has not been in private practice for years. He said the Town faces challenging times and he wants to make sure the charter makes Watertown’s government as effective and responsive as possible.
Fitzpatrick has lived in Town for about 15 years, and said she thinks Watertown is a special town of four square miles tucked next to the Charles and near places like Boston and Cambridge. She said she is excited to help look at how to improve and strengthen local government. She lives near Victory Field and has closely followed issues about the complex, as well as Watertown High School. She has also been interested in dog parks.
Mello first became involved in Town government at the age of 18 when he was elected to Town Meeting. Later he was elected to the Planning Board before the Town switched to they city type of government. While he did not serve on the committee that drew up the original Town Charter, Mello was on the “Yes” committee that worked to get the approval of the charter (which changed the government from Town Meeting to a Council with a strong Town Manager). Last year Mello ran for Town Councilor At-Large. Professionally, he worked for many years in the print and copy industry.
Ciro has resided in Watertown for most of her adult life. She has been active behind the scenes in Town, but this is her first time serving on a Town committee. She has been interested in the Charter for years, and wants to make it more responsive to people, more transparent and work even better than it does.
Martin grew up near Watertown in the Warrendale section of Waltham and moved to Town 42 years ago when he bought his grandmother’s house. He and his wife raised their children, and when they were grown Martin joined the Conservation Commission (he has served 23 years and is now chair). He looks forward to working with people to make Watertown a better place, and to find out what’s wrong and what’s right in the Town’s government. He thinks the committee can help make Watertown a better place.
Sideris thanked the residents, as well as those who applied but were not chosen to be part of the Charter Review Committee. He said he looked to have a mix of people who bring a range of skill sets to the group.