Charter Review Committee Adds Resident Advisory Committee, Decides on Spokesperson in Emergencies

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The proposed changes to Watertown’s Charter, which will go to voters for approval in November, include the addition of a committee to work with the Town Manager to recruit and evaluate candidates for town boards and committees. Another addition defines when the Council President can act as the spokesperson during an emergency situation.

These were some of the changes discussed at the June 15 meeting of the Charter Review Committee. The next meeting is Tuesday, July 6 at 6 p.m.

Resident Advisory Committee & Diversity

The Charter changes would create a Resident Advisory Committee. The group would help the Manager recruit and evaluate candidates nominations for appointed committees and boards.

Councilor Tony Palomba said he wanted to make sure that the Resident Advisory Committee sought to have a diverse range of people on the town boards and committees. He suggested that language be added saying the Advisory Committee recognizes the importance of gender identity, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.

Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said that by putting in specific groups in the section, he worried that there may be others that are left out. He preferred being more broad and say that the Advisory Committee “shall recognize the importance of diversity in nominating candidates.”

Having some specific examples would be helpful, said Councilor Lisa Feltner. But she also said they can’t cover all groups.

“We could say that they ‘recognize the importance of diversity, such as …’ and add examples,” Feltner said.

Michael Ward, from the Collins Center at UMass Boston, proposed that the section say: ““The town manager and Residents Advisory Committee shall recognize the importance of diversity in appointments including but not limited to gender identity, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.”

The Charter Review Committee approved the change 13-1 with Councilor Angeline Kounelis voting “no.”

Emergency Spokesperson & Creating Goals

Ward said that the Collins Center tried to come up with a definition of the role of the Council President without infringing on the executive branch as well as not impacting the Town Council’s authority.

At the prior meeting, members had problems with the Council President being the spokesperson for the whole council, and also that he or she lead the creation of the Council’s longterm goals and create the longterm vision for Watertown.

At the June 15 meeting, another alternative to the language was presented that said that the Council President would be the spokesperson in the event of an emergency.

Some wondered how the Council would give the President that authority if there was an emergency situation and they could not meet in person. Also, what the definition of an emergency is.

Councilor Lisa Feltner worried whether the rules would be “nimble enough” for the Council to spring into action when an emergency situation arose.

Ward said that the Council could vote at the beginning of the term to give the President the authority to be the spokesperson. Councilor John Gannon noted that the Open Meeting Law is suspended during a State of Emergency, so the Council could meet remotely.

Councilor Anthony Donato suggested that the details of how and when the President would be given authority to be spokesperson could be spelled out in an ordinance, and would not have to be in the Charter.

The June 15 proposal also called for the Council President to coordinate with the entire Council on the goals and longterm vision for the Town. The Charter Review Committee unanimously approved the changes.

Town Manager’s Evaluation

New language for how the Town Manager is evaluated was also approved unanimously. The section not only calls for an annual review based on specific metrics, but also adds language giving the public an opportunity to give input.

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