Citizen relief methods included in draft town charter

Jan. 14, 2016 | Chris Goudreau

EAST LONGMEADOW – The Charter Commission has included four citizen relief methods in the draft town charter that currently do not exist.

The commission gave a presentation to residents during its third public hearing on Jan. 7 on the finer points of the charter, which calls for the town to establish a council-manager form of government.

Charter Commission member George Kingston said the first citizen relief method is to petition the Town Council on an issue.

“We talked about the fact that anyone can come to a Town Council meeting and address the council,” he explained. “For individual petitions, yes, you can get up there and be heard. But if you don’t think you’re being heard, you can collect signatures and petition the council to act on a particular matter. The council is required to hold a public hearing [within three months] and to vote, ‘Yes,’ or ‘No.’”

The second citizen relief mechanism entails gathering additional signatures to form a citizen initiative, which is similar to a citizen petitioned warrant article, he noted. Initiatives could come before the School Board or Town Council.

“If it denies the measure, you can gather additional signatures and the measure will appear on the next Town Election ballot,” Kingston said. “This is something you can’t do today.”

He stated the third relief mechanism is a citizen referendum procedure, which is a protest against an action made by the council or School Board.

“Again, if they don’t agree with your protest and you have enough signatures, the measure does not go into effect until an election is held,” he added. “We can either have a special election if it’s a critical matter or wait to the general election, but it gives the entire electorate the opportunity to prevent a measure from going into effect that the community feels is not in its best interest.”

The fourth relief mechanism is a recall election to remove public officials from office, Kingston said.

Charter Commission member Eric Madison said if residents approved the charter this April, the last Town Meeting would take place on May 16 and the warrant would include approving the fiscal year 2017 budget.

“No actions can be enacted that are contrary to the charter [during the May 16 Town Meeting],” he added.

Town Council elections would take place on June 7 and no primary would take place during this election, Madison said. The number of votes each of the candidates receives would determine his or her term of office.

“Because we specify staggered terms of office for the Town Council, town council members would be voted in for three-year terms based upon the three highest vote getters, two members for two-year terms, and two members for one-year terms,” he explained.

Newly elected councilors would be sworn into office on July 1, Madison said. Councilors would immediately establish officers on the council and establish a town manager search committee.

The Board of Selectmen would continue its executive functions until a town manager is appointed, he noted. The board would be abolished when the town manager is sworn in.

Madison said the selectmen would also continue acting as the Board of Health until a new board is appointed by the town manager. The charter also allows selectmen to run for town council.

Board of Public Works Chair John Maybury said he believes residents would be “stripped of our vote as a taxpayer” by eliminating Town Meeting.

Former Selectman Marilyn Richards said she believes government is “as good as the people it serves.”

She added, “One of my disappointments was when, me personally, your first official vote was to eliminate Town Meeting. I philosophically believe that Town Meeting basically empowers your town officials to be accountable to your taxpayers.”

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