Charter Review Proposal: Work on Current Government Now, Do Deeper Dive in a Few Years

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Watertown Town Hall

Watertown Town Hall

The Charter Review Committee was given something to think about at the end of Tuesday’s meeting: a proposal to look at changes to the current form of government this year, but hold the next review a few years down the road to allow for an in-depth look at whether Watertown should make major changes to its government.

The question was posed by Michael Ward, one of the Town’s consultants from the Collins Center at UMass Boston. He also put out the idea of removing the Town Council from the next Charter Review Committee.

Town Council President Mark Sideris, who chairs the Charter Review Committee, said there would be no discussion of the proposal on Tuesday, but wanted the Committee members to have time to think about the proposal so they could discuss it at the next meeting on March 16.

In the proposal, Ward suggested that the next Charter Review be held in four years (or possibly three or five) rather than waiting another 10 years.

“We realize there is a deep interest in a longer term discussion than is likely to be had in this committee, which is under a time pressure if any changes need to go to the ballot before November,” Ward said. “We hope this would be a way to go on two tracks, improve the existing charter in the shorter term and not have to wait 10 years to make a larger change.”

At previous meetings, some Committee members have advocated for keeping the current system, with an elected Town Council and an appointed Town Manager as head of the executive branch. Others wanted to explore having an elected mayor as the executive. At a previous meeting, Ward laid out a timeline where the changes to the charter would need to be decided by the spring, in order for the Town Council to get it on the ballot for residents to vote on the changes in November.

Ward noted that members of the Committee and residents have asked for time to hold public meetings to educate the public and get input from residents to help decide whether to pursue a major change in the Town’s form of government.

“I was trying to find a way to ensure that the committee is able to accomplish something in the timeframe it has, but also allow the longer term, in-depth discussion — that clearly there is a hunger for — to continue,” Ward said.

Sideris said using Ward’s proposal would allow the Town to see if smaller changes can address people’s issues with Watertown’s current government.

“It allows this Charter Review to put things in place and actually see if they are working,” Sideris said.

Ward’s other proposal would change the makeup of the Charter Review Committee in the future, and remove the Town Councilors from the group. Currently, Watertown has all nine members on the committee. Ward said most communities in Massachusetts have only between one and three Councilors on their Charter Review Committee. The only other one he knew of that has the entire Council participate is Randolph.

The current Charter Review Committee would have to figure out how future members of committees are chosen. One possibility is having the Town Council President appoint the members, Ward said, but there could be other methods.

Both the changes could be made by altering the current Charter, Ward said. He suggested keeping the 10 year gap between charter reviews after the next one. That could be done so by changing the wording, which currently says the review will be held on years ending in zero. The Charter could be changed to say the review is held in years ending in four, or some other year, Ward said, depending on what the Committee decides.

Charter Review Poll, Subcommittees

Members of the Charter Review Committee at the next meeting to get the results of the poll about the Charter Review on the Town’s website, and any comments submitted. The results may be presented at the Charter Review Committee’s Communication Subcommittee meeting on March 4 at 5 p.m. (click here for details).

The poll remains open to the public. To access the poll, click here.

Marcia Ciro, chair of the Communication Subcommittee, said that four sandwich boards have been placed around town to alert people about the Charter Review process. She also said items that the subcommittee had requested fto be added to the Charter Review webpage had not been added, as of Tuesday night. One request was to post the documents provided to the Committee on the site for the public to see.

The Preamble Subcommittee will also be meeting soon, said Councilor Tony Palomba, the subcommittee’s chair. The group recently started the discussion of a statement to go in the beginning of the charter, and has meetings scheduled through May. The next one will be held March 8 at 5:30 p.m. (click here for info).

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