Minutes of the Meeting
Charter Review Commission
20 September 2001
The third meeting of the Charter Review Commission began at 7:07 at the library meeting room on Thursday, September 20, 2001. All members were present. Sav Rebecchi laid down ground rules that each speaker announce their name and address before making comments.
Sav Rebecchi, Chair Thomas Tighe
Nancy Mason, Secretary Rena Tyson, alternate
Peter Shocket Norma Willis, Council liaison
This was an open forum for ideas and suggestions. Maryanne Crawford, Town Administrator; Arlene Kalooski, Town Clerk; and Sue Brayman, Tax Assessor, were present and had several suggestions.
In regard to town elections: It had been suggested that elections coincide with November elections instead of May - a heavier turn-out of voters. May elections cost about $ 5,485.
As to Article II, section 210 - "Interference"- All questions should go thru the Town Administrator. The town council members should refer questions put to them to the Town Administrator in regard to department heads. All council members would then receive information at the same time.
In regard to the Finance Director, Maryanne Crawford is listed as such in name only. The deputy finance director at present is listed as "Deputy- Finance Director". She does not live on the island.
Sue Brayman spoke in regard to increasing the board of assessors from three to five. At present there is no written means to allow one member to recuse themselves in case of a conflict.
The question was raised as to what dictates the fiscal year. At present the fiscal year begins March 1st. It can only be adjusted to July 1st. If it is moved to July 1st, the budget must be approved by June 1st.
The question was raised as to what the cost would be to the town if the fiscal year were changed and the town meeting was changed.
Arlene Kalooski, Town Clerk, stated that any Jamestown resident can come in and ask a question of her and get an answer. That includes council members. This was in reference to Article II- section 210.
Council members and president of same, Guy Settipane, spoke in regard to the inquiry clause, saying that it was not designed to take away any rights. The general policy is that the Council does not give orders to department heads. The phrase "deal with" was considered. Orders should be funneled thru the Administrator.
The Council members should not lose their right to talk with Department heads. They have an absolute right to ask, as an ordinary citizen. They, however, should not interfere with day to day operations.
Arlene Kalooski said that she attends seminars relating to the operations of the Town Clerk's responsibilities. She is the secretary to the Town Council. There has to be a continuity between the new Town Council and the old Town Council. Other communities that have larger staffs give the Town Clerk more time to work with the Town Council. Some towns have a Probate Clerk and a Town Clerk.
Guy referred to a referendum instead of financial town meetings, in that it offers a time table to put forth a petition. He mentioned concerns regarding enforcement, parking problems, a plan of operation and whether we should have a Municipal Court in Town. Could we authorize it, would it support itself or cost more than going to another court system. We would have to ask the legislature for authorization. It should include waterfront enforcement. Would the revenue go to the town?
Sav referred to the procedure for recommending changes in the charter to be presented to the Council. These need to be placed on a ballot for a general election. Should this be in May, at a financial Town Meeting, or November or at a special Town Meeting or election. He mentioned the time line of six months in which we were "hopefully" able to complete this project.
Sav asked for other questions in regard to the charter from the twelve persons in the audience.
Harrison Wright referred to the question raised by Sue Brayman regarding the numbers of members on the Board of Assessors. He suggested an alternate be appointed by the Town Council if question or vacancy occurred. He used the term "interaction" in reference to "deal with" in relation to inquiries.
He also referred to "sexist language" as inappropriate. He said that the charter contained four separate statements regarding conflict of interest where one blanket statement would be sufficient. The language could be gender neutral.
Also mentioned was that there was nothing in the Charter referring to the Harbor Commission. To be technically correct, it should be included, with reference to its composition and powers.
Andy Weiker referred to "chatting up" heads of departments. As a citizen, one should be able to say "how about doing this?". Some department heads don't want to be talked to by Council members. He also warned us to be careful of "squiggle" language.
David Martin referred to the Financial Town Meeting. He had been on a previous Charter Review Committee. He said the meeting no longer adequately serves us in setting the direction of the Town's operations. It is evident that there is slowly eroding attendance and participation. He would like to see participation restored or abandon the meeting. As it is now, it serves no purpose.
He made a few suggestions:
- have the meeting in the summertime when more people are here to participate in how monies are spent.
- summer residents should be allowed to participate.
- the Charter does not speak to the financial town meeting and its parameters.
- possibly hold the meeting during morning hours-maybe even over two days.
- a suggestion of proxy votes
- a process where people could note electronically - a private vote - hand raising may intimidate those who are reticent to speak.
- his suggestions are to try and enhance the process.
- for some reason, very few people show up at budget hearings.
- he personally supports the system we have now "as far as it goes"
The Town Council ran the town before the charter existed and ran it in an efficient way. It seemed a more efficient way to address specific issues.
From 1975 onward, there seems to have been general apathy and lack of input.
Norma Willis suggested the possibility of a community survey about the effectiveness and continuation of the town meeting:
Do you attend?
If not, why not?
Are you satisfied with the way the town is run?
Are you intimidated to speak?
Is it the wrong time of year?
Is it the wrong time of day?
Is it a social gathering?
How about weather concerns?
Arlene Kalooski spoke about voter participation and voter turn out over the past ten years. We have a population of approximately 5,622 residents, with the numbers of registered voters at 4,460.
Randy Tyson mentioned that in the past there had been a taxpayers group present at the Town Meeting, who always questioned specific items.
Paula Swistak suggested that there should be an educational effort as to what the financial Town Meeting is, and what it hopes to accomplish.
Harrison Wright mentioned that he liked the idea of public discourse; that the meeting might be at a better time of year, but discourages proxy voters.
Guy Settipane made references to:
-Section 223- the budget area
- provision should be made for a "balanced budget", with few exceptions.
-Section 416-rights of way and control could possibly be under Parks and Recreation.
-Sewer and Water regulations are not as clear as they should be. There is no representation from the Community. The Council sits as a safeguard system; there might be an appeal board. Applications could be approved by the Council.
-Section 209 - Conflict of interest. Council members should not have to give up their right to question as a citizen unless there is a pecuniary interest (money).
- In regard to (section 212) terms not completed, the council should be able to appoint someone, not being limited to the next highest vote getter.
When questioned, he remarked that the entire Town pays for the water treatment plant and sewer treatment. The board of Water Commissioners oversee the waste water concerns - the users pay for the water and sewer usage.
Harrison Wright remarked that if the voters are dissatisfied with the members of the Town Council, changing length of service from two to three years would not be good. We have ten candidates and we choose five to serve 2, not 3 as has been suggested.
The Charter was prepared very well; we have reviewed other Charters; we need only to "tweak" ours.
The open meeting ended at 8:45, so that we all might hear The President's speech.
Our own meeting continued for a short time. It was suggested that, after the minutes were turned over, they might be put on the web site - as amended and accepted.
We were given a copy of "Municipal Charters in Rhode Island" put out by the Office of Municipal Affairs, Department of Administration of Rhode Island; which should be a great resource.
We ran down the prepared Charter Review Organizer and put "holds" on those issues and article sections we should review.
At our next meeting we should be able to get through and including Article III.
Our next meeting will be October 11, 2001 in the library Museum room.
Motion was made, seconded and so voted to adjourn - 9:10 p.m.
Nancy L. Mason
Secretary - CRC