The Charter Review Committee tackled a couple of issues impacting the Town Council, including whether the Vice President should have term limits, and when and how the Council should determine its own salaries.
At the June 15 meeting, the Charter Review Committee was asked to propose changes that were not already proposed by the consultants from the Collins Center at UMass Boston.
Vice President Term Limits
Councilor Tony Palomba proposed a change to the Charter that would have the vice president of the Council to be chosen for a two-year term and not be allowed to serve for more than two consecutive terms. The position, which is currently nominated and voted on by the Council, currently is chosen at the beginning of the two-year term and there are no limits to how many terms someone can serve.
Palomba said he believes it is a position where Councilors can learn a lot about how the government works.
“It is more an issue of sharing the wealth, sharing the knowledge and being more knowledgeable and therefore more effective Town Councilors,” Palomba said.
Current Vice President, Vincent Piccirilli, said that he does not think that was the role of the position.
“Learning is not part of the role of being a vice president. There is no training for it,” Piccirilli said.
Rotating who serves as vice president would prevent backroom campaigning and dealmaking, said Councilor Lisa Feltner. She said that goes on now because someone would need four colleagues to vote with them to be chosen vice president.
Councilor John Gannon liked the idea of term limits.
“I think it is a role that should be available to many people,” Gannon said. “To have the role of vice president be available more frequently would be great for all the Council.”
Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she did not support the change.
Resident member Jonathan Hecht, a former Councilor, said he does not see anything broken with the way the Vice President is selected and how many terms he or she serves.
Resident member Marcia Ciro liked the idea. She saw it as a small change which she thinks would be an improvement because it would give members more of a voice on the Council.
“It isn’t broken, per se, but I do feel the Town Council is so entrenched and there are some of us in the town who would like to shake it up a bit,” Ciro said. “It would be great to have other people serve as vice president, and rotating among Town Councilors seems like a good thing to me. It seems like no one wants anything to change.”
The Charter Review Committee voted the proposal down 4-10, with Councilor Caroline Bays, Gannon, Palomba and Ciro supporting it.
Town Council Compensation
How and when the Council approves its own compensation was also discussed at the June 15 meeting. Council President Mark Sideris made a proposal to have the Council vote on its compensation at the beginning of each two-year term.
Feltner said she does not think salary changes need to be decided at the beginning of the term. She added the current language, which only allows the Council’s compensation to be approved in the first 18 months of the term, seems limiting. She proposed allowing the Council to approve a new compensation anytime, but with the caveat that the new pay rate would not take effect until the following term, after the election.
Resident member Bill Oates said he does not like the idea of the Council approving a raise in the last six months of its term. He added, however, that he believes Councilors should have higher salary than they do currently — $5,000 a year for Councilors and $7,500 a year for the Council President — so that it opens the possibility for more people to serve on the Council.
Councilor Caroline Bays said she feels uncomfortable voting on her own salary as Councilor.
A committee made up of people with human resources experience could make a recommendation on the salary, Gannon said. Sideris said last time the Council voted a raise, they asked the Town’s Personnel Director to do a survey of area communities to see how Watertown’s Council salaries compare.
Sideris withdrew his proposal to have the compensation be decided at the beginning of the term. The proposal to allow compensation changes anytime during the Council term was voted down 4-10, with Bays, Councilor Tony Palomba, Feltner and Ciro supporting it.