Minutes of the Meeting
Charter Review Commission
25 October 2001
The fifth meeting of the Charter Review Commission began at 7:07 pm in the Police Station Conference Room on Thursday, October 25, 2001. All members were in attendance.
It was brought up that the minutes of each meeting must be available to the public before each subsequent meeting. They could be in draft form and copies could be kept at the Police Station for public access.
It was mentioned that Andrew Weicker had submitted an addendum to the minutes of the September 20th meeting to cover the substance of the remarks which he had made at that time. It was moved, seconded and so voted that his addendum be accepted.
It was also mentioned that the corrected version of the minutes be listed as approved, instead of revised minutes.
The minutes were accepted "as is" - moved, seconded and so voted.
In reference to the minutes of the October 11th meeting, it was pointed out that the report on Section 204 should have said: "A discussion of whether it is the best idea, as is the custom, that the "highest vote getter" of the majority party" is voted on by the Council members, to be the Council President.
A discussion followed that in the case of a vacancy, the possibility exists that the party complexion could be changed, and the President should be of the majority party.
The minutes of the meeting of October 11th were accepted as corrected, by being so moved, seconded and so voted.
Discussion then progressed to individual sections.
Section 202 - It was suggested that it stay as it is written. It seems prudent not to move on to "any other town office during his tenure on the Town Council, or a paid appointive local town office for a period of one year thereafter".
Section 203 - the compensation of the Council members should be under the Administration as part of the budget format.
A question arose as to the financial Town Meeting. Historically, in 1910, it was stated that we would have a financial Town Meeting; and a date was established. In 1975 it was changed so that the meeting was to be held in May instead of March.
If it is to be changed, it can be voted on in a referendum by ballot. Then the State makes it part of State laws.
As for the Charter Review Commission, we feel that "whether to have one, and on what date should be up to the Town Council. Can and/or should we put it in the Charter? If it is eliminated, we would switch to a referendum process, such as North Kingstown has.
We received a letter from the Board of Canvassers to consider a day and date change. A possibility could be on the first Saturday of March during the day, instead of the first Monday in March in the evening. The Council could then propose a possible change. We could put the "town meeting" into the Charter provisions.
A question arose regarding a situation where there is a tie for the fifth seat in a Council election. The Board of Canvassers defers to the State Canvassing Board, and another vote is taken between the two.
We should keep a catalogue of things considered and left alone.
There was a discussion as to whether Town elections should coincide with the federal elections. A memorandum from the Town Clerk showed that a greater percentage of the eligible voters turned out at a general or Presidential election, as compared to the local elections.
Norma commented that local issues should remain local. It's best not to combine local issues with State issues. We need to consider quality of voters as well as quantity. We need space for local issues that they don't get lost in bigger issues.
There are people in Jamestown who are involved with every aspect of Town issues, and those who choose not to be involved, and just like the convenience of residing here. The people who are voting are those who are interested in what's going on.
It was suggested that the Chair, Sav Rebecchi, contact the political party members involved to see how they feel about voter turn-out. They run the elections.
Section 204 - A cross reference was made by Norma in connection with Section 212. We should include things that can cause a vacancy on the Council. The question was raised as to whether this had ever caused a problem. It was mentioned that if the political balance was then changed, the Council would elect a new President from the majority. The majority party should have the benefit of a President of it's own party.
Section 212 seems to fix Section 204. If the next highest vote getter changes the majority - strike "in said office". We need to work on the cross-reference between 204 and 212 in regard to what might cause a vacancy, and the election of a new President.
The majority party should have it's own President. If the same President continues on, and he doesn't represent the majority party, there is contention. We need consensus to continue in the best interest of the Town.
When we consider Section 212, we need to add things that could cause a vacancy, and what period of time should be considered before a "vacancy" exists.
Norma spoke on Section 209 - Conflict of interest taken, and modified in form, from the Ethics Commission (see Norma's note). It gives a clearer definition of the conflict of interest.
In regard to the Harbor Commission: The Concerned Boaters' Association has a law suit in regard to the mooring fee changes. They are suing the Town. They are a "class" and are also members of the Board of the Harbor Commission; a clear example of conflict of interest.
Section 206 - Special Meetings - Mike will check on the 48 hour restriction (whether it can be waived or not).
A discussion ensued regarding the Harbor Commission. Chief Tighe is the Executive Director to the Commission. He was asked if the Harbor Commission would have been included in the original Charter had it been in existence when the Charter was written. It wasn't, so could not have been part of it. Should it be in the Charter? Should we add it or not?
Section 213 - Is it OK as written? Do we need a legal basis? What does "qualifications" refer to? If a Council member questions a department head, is that cause for judgement and investigation? Chief Tighe was asked to contact Fred Clarke, who served on the original Commission as to the intent of "qualifications".
Section 216 - Procedure for adopting ordinance. The phrase "but if is amended" as in the Wastewater Treatment Plan - the Town Solicitor said this was acceptable. In a "matter of Substance", the "majority rules".
We need a "glossary of terms". What do we interpret that phrase to mean? Possibly we could get a graduate student to go thru the Charter and create a "glossary of terms". We want this process of study and revision to be of use to the next review Commission. In terminology, the Court always looks for intent - if intent is spelled out, it would be helpful.
Section 217 - Mike will investigate the reason for the phrasing in the sentence - "An emergency ordinance may be adopted with or without amendment or rejected at the meeting at which it is introduced, but the affirmative vote of at least four (4) members shall be required for adoption. Why four when the majority is three?
Section 219 - Initiative procedure. "And shall take a final vote on the enactment of same no more thirty (30) days following receipt of the petition from the Town Clerk". The belief was that 30 days was too short a period of time. We should see what State statutes say. We may be able to appropriately change it to sixty (60) days.
In referring back to Section 216, Norma brought out the importance of a public hearing in regard to adopting amended ordinances.
Section 221 - Codification and revision of ordinances - Should we decide that ordinances should be revised every six years, or five years. We need a starting point somewhere.
Section 222 - Proposed Budget. We must have a BALANCED BUDGET!!! If a budget is not balanced, it must go to referendum. State law requires this to be done. Peter will check with the Finance Director of Newport on this issue.
There is apparently no restraint on a group going to the financial Town Meeting to increase the budget. They can "pack it" with their group. There should be a boundary on what can be proposed without petitions.
To increase or decrease the budget, it must be done by petition. The petition must have preparation and be prepared at least thirty days prior to presenting it to the voters.
Should there be a section in the Town Charter to spell out or explain the financial Town Meeting?
Maybe there should be a section to explain that if the total budget for school and town government spending went beyond 5.5%, permission would be granted. Would it be a trigger mechanism for a ballot for an all day referendum where the people vote?
If taxes go up more than 5.5%, the issue must go to a Budget Committee at the State level. They usually let you do it. A secret ballot can be held as a safety mechanism for an unusually high request.
Section 223 - Recommended Budget. The Town Administrator schedules budget hearings, then revisions are made.
We are in favor of changing the fiscal year to begin July 1st. The Town Council should consider this, instead of March 1st, as it is now.
Norma and Sav discussed the fact that the Council would like an interim progress report by the end of November. We should aim for a final report by the end of January.
Section 224 - This section is very clear on the idea that the Town Administrator should have a five year plan for equipment replacement scheduling. The Harbor Commission has one.
Section 225. This section is OK.
This completes Article II.
At our next meeting, we should consider Articles III and IV.
We should take as long as necessary to complete our review of the Charter. We should plan for meetings in January and February.
Our next meeting will be held November 8th, at the Library.
Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. We should have an interim report by the first meeting of the Council in December - the 10th.
A note should be sent to Harrison Wright thanking him for his efforts in reviewing the gender issues in the Charter and suggestions to remove gender from the Charter.
A motion was made, seconded and so voted to adjourn the meeting at 9:35pm.
Nancy L. Mason