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

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.

This Week’s Meetings: In-Person Learning, Charter Review & WHS Project

This week’s meetings include a discussion of reopening of the Watertown Schools to in-person learning, the Town’s Charter Review, and an update on designs for the new Watertown High School. School Committee

The School Committee meets Monday, March 1 at 7 p.m., and the agenda includes an update on the reopening and an update on student learning time. A group of Lowell PTO members have written a letter asking the Watertown schools to open to all in-person learning (see the letter by clicking here). Also, the School Committee will hear a presentation about social and emotional learning and health during COVID-19. Reports include a look at the draft 2021-22 school calendar.

Charter Review Committee Takes Straw Poll, Reviews Current Document

Watertown’s Town Hall. The Charter Review Committee gave a little insight into which way its members are leaning in the question of whether to keep the current form of government or change to one with a mayor. The committee took a straw poll toward the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, in which six of the 15 members said they were leaning toward keeping the current government with a council and strong town manager. None said they were leaning toward a mayoral form, but nine abstained. The vote was proposed by Town Councilor Ken Woodland, who said he wanted to help give the consultants from the Collins Center at UMass Boston an idea of what to work on for future meetings.

LETTER: Watertown’s Charter Needs a Vision Statement for the Town

Editor:

The last Charter Review Committee (CRC) Meeting certainly had it all, but one thing noticeably lacking was a clear vision for Watertown. During the lively discussion, none of the Councilors were able to tell us what it is.  Instead, we were told about the countless hours Councilors spent writing hundreds of pages of plans. Then we heard the oft-used “if people want to know, they can find it on our website.” Anyone who has tried to use Waterown’s website knows that it merits its own letter. Plans for every project or department, meticulous as they may be, do not constitute a vision. When I was starting a business, the first thing I did was create an elevator pitch that quickly explained what my business is, based on my vision. Examples include Microsoft’s founding vision of “A computer on every desk in every home,” or Disney’s vision “to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.” Both tell you exactly what Microsoft and Disney are looking to accomplish, what they prioritize, and the future they envision.

See What’s in the Charter Review Committee’s Poll

The Charter Review Committee wants to hear from the public, and has posted an online poll about several issues that have come up during the group’s meetings. Questions include whether the length of Town Councilor terms should be extended, should the Town add a public information officer position, and should the town start a 311 service for a “one-stop” number that residents can call with their questions and concerns. Also, should the Town Council’s compensation be reviewed, should the Town Manager and Council President be required to hold at least two meetings a year where residents can come to get their issues addressed, and should the Town Council be able to hire an analyst to help Councilors with their work. The final question is: “Do you think a mayor-city council would be more responsive than our current government of Town Council and Strong Town Manager?” See the poll by clicking here.

Charter Review Committee Debates Vision for Town, Ways to Improve Government

Watertown Town Hall

This week’s Charter Review Committee meeting covered a range of topics, from a vision for Watertown to how the charter could be changed to make the government more accountable and responsive to the public, and even the debate of keeping the Town Manger type of government or changing to a mayor. At times the discussion became heated, both between committee members and even members of the public participating in the virtual meeting. The biggest question before the group of 15 (nine Town Councilors and six members of the public) will be taken up directly in upcoming meetings. Town Council President Mark Sideris said the merits of mayor and strong manager forms of government will be on the agenda of the next meeting, and future ones. Tuesday’s agenda called for reviewing the panel discussions with at the two previous meetings with elected officials from other cities and towns.

Charter Review Committee Hears How Other Local Governments Work from Mayors & a Manager

Watertown Town Hall

The group looking at whether to make changes to how Watertown’s government works heard from chief executives from three communities: two mayors and one town manager. At the Jan. 5 Charter Review Committee meeting, the members were joined by three panelists: Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin, and Jamie Hellen, Town Administrator in Franklin, which has a similar set up to Watertown with a “strong manager.” Each spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of their governments. Hellen said that one of the strengths of Franklin’s council/manager form of government is that he as an appointed executive can take the heat off the elected council for some of the more contentious decisions.

Other Town Charters Looked to for Inspiration for Charter Review Committee

Looking for ways to improve the way Watertown’s municipal government works, the Charter Review Committee looked at other cities and towns for new ideas. They also debated mayor vs. town manager, and ways to communicate with residents. Committee members looked for ways to address some of their biggest issues with the way Watertown’s government operates, including transparency, communication with residents and accountability. Specifically, some complained that it is unclear how residents can report a problem and get it addressed.