LETTER: Charter Review Needs Transparency, Should Consider All 3 Forms of Government

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Watertown Town Hall

The following letter was sent by Marilyn Petitto Devaney, former-Town Councilor, former-Town Meeting member and current Governor’s Councilor:

The Watertown Charter Committee consists of nine elected town councilors and six residents appointed by the Council president who acts as chair. They are charged to conduct a 10 year review of the Watertown Charter. They are to review entire charter to determine if any changes should be made in the structure of the government in addition to other agenda — i.e. considering all forms of government.

The committee publicly stated they would go through the charter completely, but have not. This committee has been having meetings on Zoom at 6 pm. Most people are unaware — preoccupied with the pandemic — trying to get a vaccine, out of work, or trying to work and do home schooling with their children-dealing with the different school schedules. Many residents don’t do ‘”Zoom.”

Realistically zoom meetings should not have taken place during this pandemic. The review committee has by state law- 6 more months to hold meetings. They could have held public meetings outside.

No vote should be taken this Tuesday by the committee before there is a public forum. It could be held outside the Town Hall on a Saturday afternoon in June according to health regulations.

The secretary of state has advised that Watertown has until September 28th to submit the wording to the town clerk office to be placed on the ballot for the November election. The review committee on April 6th is going to choose one form of government — between City Mayor form and Watertown’s present form of government. The voters will vote on the one they decide.

There are 3 forms of government in Massachusetts – They will not consider even talking about town government (elected select board and citizen town meeting members.) They are excluding for voter consideration the most popular form of government — Town Government like Belmont, Arlington, and Lexington etc. Brookline has town government with a population of nearly 60,000 residents. They have 244 citizen town meeting members.

CONSIDER THESE FACTS

  • In Massachusetts there are 294 town governments – 43 Mayoral cites and only 14 cities known as a town. The Charter Committee is not giving the residents the right to be educated on ALL 3 FORMS OF GOVERNMENT.
  • Watertown has the strongest town manager form government in the country. For the purpose of history -When Watertown was a town for 350 years until 1980 It was a town government with town meeting members.

Let’s look at the comparison of former town government with present city know a town. Before 1980 Watertown voters voted for Selectmen (Now called select board) 166 citizen town meeting members who were the legislative body now replaced by 9 councilors. (Brookline with nearly 60,000 residents has over 240 town meeting members. which resident Governor Dukakis is quite proud).

Let’s compare what Watertown voted for before 1980 and what they are allowed to vote for
now.

On the ballot – IN PAST GOVERNMENT – Watertown Voters voted for: THEN – Selectmen (Now called select boards) and 166 Town Meeting Members ,Town Clerk, Board of Election Commissioners, Town Auditor, Town Treasurer, Town Assessors, Members of the Planning Board, Members of the Zoning Board-licensing, health director, Board of Health, Board of library trustees, School Committee, Member of the Housing Authority, Tree Warden, and others.

Informational Public warrant meetings would be held weeks ahead. All residents would receive a mailing of the warrant containing all the articles that would be presented for the town meeting members to vote on. The 1980 election had all these elected positions removed. All elected positions are appointed by the Town Manager – except – two — library trustees and school committee

NOW — The voters have ONLY three positions to vote for on the ballot — library trustees, School Committee Members — and 6 Town Councilors (president, 4 at large and one district councilor). There are a total of nine councilors (with
four district councilors).

Example of the apathy, last election there were three (3) library trustees to be elected. There were only two (2) candidates. The third had to be appointed.

No reflection on the candidates, but the apathy exists where traditionally councilors go unopposed. A district councilor ran unopposed the first time he ran and unopposed in every election.

Now in comparison in our present city form of government to the former town government. When Watertown was a town- the high school auditorium where town meeting met there was standing room only. This like other towns today was the place where all the residents met. When I served for decades on the Town Council only one couple would attend council meetings.

PLEASE NOTE

At the last subcommittee of the charter review — they discussed producing a flyer to educate the voters about just 2 forms of government… What about the town government being included?

Throughout their meetings – no one from a town government was allowed the only invited were mayors and elected from cities known as a town to make a presentation and have discussion.

NOW – Watertown Residents should demand a public meeting to be fully educated and informed of all 3 forms of governments. To listen and to be heard. The voters are asked by the Charter review to fill out a survey, their choice: a mayor city form or the present city form.

Why? – When there are three (3) Massachusetts local governments

I am asking you as a Watertown voter to support Watertown voter’s right to demand a public informative forum for Watertown voters of all three (3) forms of government – demanding to cancel the April 6th vote – to have an educational forum held outside for residents to listen and be heard. Then – Let the voters decide.

An informational flyer should be sent to all residents to invite them to this public forum. If you agree that the April 6th vote should be cancelled and a public meeting held — please contact me – marilynpetittodevaney@gmail.com – by phone (617) 840-7689, or by letter to my home at 98 Westminster Ave., Watertown.

Please voice your opinion and call the committee zoom meeting Tuesday at 6 pm to cancel their vote and have a public meeting in June that the Voters deserve.

6 thoughts on “LETTER: Charter Review Needs Transparency, Should Consider All 3 Forms of Government

  1. I can tell you that 90% of voters have no idea whatsoever what this is all about and in my opinion probably do not believe there is any need for change.

    Presenting voters with a ballot question on this in the near future is absurd is like spinning a roulette wheel.

    WHO is pushing for a change in governance and exactly WHAT is their compelling reason for turning the town upside over this?

    Is this a push for power by a certain faction?

    • Sal,
      The law requires that every 10 years we review the Charter. As I explain in more detail below, we’ve done this 3 times since adopting this form of Government. But at the time there was no strong push to make major changes.
      This time there is move by some in Community to adopt a Mayoral form of City Government. So the Charter Review is mandated by law. However, this time there is a push for major changes. I agree with you 100%. This is not the right time, under these conditions to do this. Nor is their any pressing need. While the Law requires we have review every 10 years, it doesn’t require we make changes. Nor does it preclude us from having a review in between the ten year period.

  2. I’m not a huge advocate of returning to Town Meeting. Nor am I totally against it.
    But Marylin makes a legitimate point. If this Charter Review is going to actually consider changing the form of Government, then everything should be on the table. That said; it’s the night the kind of thing that should be taken place in the middle of pandemic, where we can’t have in person meetings. Zoom and tele-meetings aren’t the same. Yes they do allow access and make it easier for some. By the same toke it excludes a huge part of the population that isn’t up to speed with the technology. Moreover, the dynamic is different. People can’t as easily respond to point that was by another member of the public.

    We’re talking about changing our form of Government. This isn’t just about tweaking the Charter. So it requires a tremendous amount of input.

    We adopted this form of Government 40 years ago. For the most part it has served us fairly well. In the last 40 years we’ve had 3 Charter reviews. To the best of my knowledge there was never a huge effort or consideration to changing the FORM of government during those reviews. It’s simply been a matter of making adjustments to the current form.

    So we should not approach a Change in Government FORM, the same way we’ve approached the 3 prior Charter Reviews.

    I suggest we put anything of that magnitude off for a few years. When we come to the table…. EVERYTHING should be on the table. It might get shot down….. but let the proponents of one particular direction for the town be heard.

  3. I agree with Marilyn and John that all options should be presented at the April 6 meeting. Elections are so important these days and transparency is necessary. If we have extra time to look at the various possibilities and public meetings could be held outside when the weather is better and more people have been vaccinated, why not consider this. Perhaps the town can send a mailing to people explaining what is happening. Many people are not even aware that the Charter is being reviewed or what it is all about. Let’s not rush a process through just to get it done. Let’s approach it thoughtfully and carefully.

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