Minutes of the
Charter Review Commission
23 August 2001
The first meeting of the newly appointed Charter Review Commission met at 7:00 PM. at the Police Station Conference Room, August 23, 2001. All members were present.
Sav Rebecchi - chairman
Nancy Mason - secretary
Peter Shocket - residency issues
Michael Swistak - water and sewer
Thomas Tighe - communication protocol
Norma Willis - liaison from Town Council
We discussed our schedule of meeting dates and places: as follows (tentative)
Wednesday, September 5 - Town Hall
*Thursday, October 11 -
Thursday, October 25 - Police Station
Thursday, November 8
Thursday, November 15 - Police Sation
Thursday, November 29 - Police Station
Tuesday, December 11 - Police Station
*Thursday, September 20 - Open meeting at the library.
The 1990 revision group took two years to complete. We are encouraged to be "on the fast track" to be finished by the end of January, 2002, at the latest!
We discussed our phone and fax and e-mail lists. Minutes of the meeting to be written up by Nancy, can be copied by Chief Tighe's secretary or Mike Swistak.
Jane Sprague attended as an invited guest to tell us of her experiences on the revision committee in 1990-1992. Others who served on the Committee were:
Sandra Brazil David Bouchard
Mary Largess Mark Liberati
They met on a monthly schedule and had been helped by the original charter drafters in 1975 - Robert Sutton, who was a research associate - Bureau of Gov. at URI, and Fred Clarke. Chief Tighe was on the Committee in 1980. He said the public was always invited and general discussions were held at each meeting.
Anyone who is mentioned in the Charter such as heads of commissions of planning, harbor, zoning, etc. were, and should be, invited. All meetings were and must be open to the public.
The original Charter Commission had seven members who were voted in by the electorate. Once recommendations were made, they were prominently posted. They let it be known what sections of the Charter would be discussed, and listened to recommendations and the discussion of the same.
Jane said we should be aware why something is the way it is, before changes are made. There could be repercussions. If there's a weakness, why is it there? Don't tinker too much with things that are going well.
We have all heard several recommendations for alterations; the more information we can gather and give the public, the better off we'll be.
Posting of the agenda must be in a minimum of two places (library, town hall, police station), for example. It should be posted in the Jamestown Press by Tuesdays at noon. We can not vote on anything unless it is posted on an agenda.
We have agreed to have Sav send a letter to Mary Ann Crawford to notify other department heads so that they will know which meetings their committees might be interested in. To be included in the letter: when the first open forum will be held.
We then generally discussed and reviewed a catalog of items to be considered.
1. - Financial Town Meeting - day of week
- the attendance has dwindled
- should we do away with it?
- what to do in case of severe weather?
2. - Elections - largest turnout occurs when general elections occur
- more likely to get more interest when separate from national
- need to be careful about filling Council vacancy with the sixth highest vote getter - then down - better to have Council appoint someone to fill a vacancy on the Council or School Committee
3. - Powers of the Town Administrator
- council and communications protocol
- town administrator is "all powerful"
- has to keep politics out of dealings
- politician is responsible for policy
- administrator is the executor of policy - don't dilute authority
- administrator is Police Chief's superior
4. - Communication
- Council can talk directly to Dept. heads - forward information to administrator
- always refer to state regulations through the town solicitor - the method of doing so will be answered through Norma Willis.
5. - Terms for Council
- should we increase the terms for Council members from two years to three or four?
- should they be staggered terms?
6. - Sewer and Water Commission
- should it stay as is - the responsibility of the town Council
- should we have a separate elected board
- water is our most valuable resource - do we want too much power over that resource
- when you change things you are redistributing power - keep the Council as the water and sewer commissioners
7. - Residency of the Finance Officer
- general discussion of whether residency should be required
- Chief of Police doesn't need to live in Town.
- should all department heads be required to live in Town
- should we have a waiver to allow the right to live out of Town
A general discussion ensued regarding other communities going through similar questions regarding modifications to their Charters.
With a city manager, the Council tends to intrude in his carrying out the Town's business. There is no way to stop anyone from voting a ten percent increase at a financial Town meeting. They can pack the hall with their supporters.
Without a financial Town meeting, budgets are presented to the Town Council in November and December and hearings are held. A petition can be circulated and signed by fifty people to reconsider issues. The final budget has to be presented 30 days before an all day referendum is held. More voters tend to come out and can vote to increase or decrease the budget. At the hearings, it is ultimately the Council which makes the decision. People in New England like to vote in all day referendums.
Middletown just finished their Charter review. Lincoln and Newport are doing theirs now. Peter Shocket will contact Dan Beardsley - RI League of Cities and Towns - for suggestions as to steps to follow.
We need to consider each article as to whether we want to recommend change or not, and go section by section. Each meeting will be open for discussion toward its ending. We must recognize that the list of recommendations will grow.
Peter mentioned that he sees nothing in the Charter that tells us how the Charter can be changed. We exist, but nothing seems to empower us to make changes. Do we need a 2/3 vote of the electorate to amend the Charter? Does it have to be approved by the Council and voted on by the electorate in a referendum?
Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, September 5th at the Town Hall.
Sav will create a spread sheet, section by section, to measure what is important. He will send letters to boards and chairpeople, and possibly get minutes from former review commissions.
Norma will discuss a budget for us, ask the best way to contact the Town Solicitor, and poll Council members on speaking directly to Department heads.
Arlene will assist with copying materials in the Town Clerk's office.
Dick Alphin, who lives on the Island, has put the Jamestown Charter on line. See Charter review resources sheet.
Nancy L. Mason
Nancy L. Mason
24 August 2001