Minutes of the Meeting
Charter Review Commission
24 January 2002
The eleventh meeting of the Charter Review Commission began at 7:05 P.M. in the Police Station Conference Room on January 24, 2002. All members were present except alternate, Rena Tyson.
A motion was made, seconded, and so voted that the minutes of the last meeting, January 3, 2002, be accepted as written.
Robert Sutton served as a staff member on the first Charter Commission, was in attendance by invitation of the Committee. Mr. Sutton was at the URI Bureau of Government Research, which worked with local communities. He mentioned that the "home rule" proposal was initiated by the State in the early 1950s. However, it didnít really take off until the early 1970s. Mr. Sutton acted as a consultant to the Town for one year. The Charter was adopted in early 1974 and passed in the fall election of 1974 by a margin of approximately 60/40% split. Mr. Sutton applied for the position of Town Administrator in January of 1975, and served the Town in that capacity until the summer of 1992. He now works in State government.
The process of creating the original Charter was written with guidelines provided by the International City Managersí Association. There is a model Charter that can be used as a guide, almost as a "fill in the blanks". The State had to approve the financial decisions. He was Town Administrator during the years when both revisions to the Charter were carried out. He expressed feelings both pro and con for mentioning the financial Town meeting in the Charter.
Mr. Shocket asked a question about the effectiveness of the former Jamestown Taxpayersí Association. Mr. Sutton said that the Taxpayersí Association had been a bit aggressive, but did create issues which prompted discussions at the financial Town meeting. He mentioned that, in his recollection, there had been more of a record of increases rather than decreases in the budget at financial Town meetings.
He said the Charter should not be burdensome. It should be used as a guide in issues such as in appointing new Department heads, dealing with union contract negotiations, and dealing with Council approvals.
He felt we should be careful about how the financial situation works in the community. There should be more recognition as to how the financial program should be handled. There should be a stronger statement as to what the Finance Directorís job should be.
The question of a Water/Sewer Board was brought up. He said that the Town purchased the privately owned Water Department in 1969. There were many problems with
equipment and lines. More problems arose when the sewer treatment plant was originated. There were problems with locations and engineering firms. He said that the Council has the responsibility to see that the Water Department operates efficiently. He would not recommend that we have a separate Board.
On the issue of residency requirements: he felt that the Town Administrator, Public Works Director, the Finance Director and the Town Clerk should be residents as they definitely have a vested interest in this community.
We probably should rethink residency requirements since real estate costs have risen dramatically recently. It may be necessary to consider allowances for home ownership or moving expenses. There should also be guidelines for contracts for Department heads.
He never had a contract in his 17 years of service.
He felt the Harbor Commission should be written into the Charter in regard to regulations and finances; and their responsibilities to the Council.
He did not feel it necessary to create term limits on boards or committees. In regard to Council terms of office, he felt 2 years was appropriate and was not in favor of staggered terms.
The Town Administrator and the Council should have a good working relationship. The Administrator should work to coordinate the Councilís efforts for the Townís benefit. Boards should not become isolated bodies. The Council should set goals for itís two years of service, then the routine things donít seem as burdensome.
He did not think that local elections should be combined with national elections. Local issues get lost in the bigger issues.
In discussing the fiscal year, he saw some problems in changing it - creating a 16 month budget - floating loans - construction budgets and projects fit better with the situation as it is now.
It was mentioned that we are the only Town in RI now that does not adhere to a July - June fiscal year.
Mr. Suttonís help with some of the history was quite helpful, and his comments will certainly be considered.
We then discussed our time line in preparing the Charter amendments. The finished document has to be ready by August 15th to be presented in the November election. The Council needs the presentation of the suggestions by June 15th. We need to finish our suggestions by May 1st.
We must start writing things the way we would like them to appear. We were asked to review the proposed gender and plurality changes, the possible changes to articles and sections, and the possible new articles for consideration before the next meeting. The new articles will have gender changes already in them.
We reviewed the possible new articles briefly.
Our next meetings will be at the Police Station on the dates listed below:
Meeting adjourned at 9:45 PM.
Nancy L. Mason
Nancy L. Mason