At its meeting July 19, 2022, members of the City Council started working through the amendments to the City’s Charter which were proposed by the Charter Review Committee last month.
They began with a lengthy discussion on the proposed change to clean up the old language that required voter approval of the municipal budget. Since voter approval of the budget was already repealed through the previous Charter, this change would have removed references to it. However, Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio and Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy both said they thought voters in November would be confused and think they were voting on whether to bring back the voting process. Councilor Mike Termath appeared to make their point for them, when he said he wanted to “put the language in there” to bring back the municipal budget vote. Mayor Mastraccio clarified that they were only discussing the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations at this point, which had no bearing on whether the budget vote was reinstated or not, and that Council members would have the opportunity to propose their own amendments later. Following that clarification, the Council voted unanimously NOT to put the recommendation to clean up the language forward to voters.
Councilors voted unanimously to move the following changes forward to voters in November:
- Giving the City Manager the power to appoint the City Assessor, subject to City Council approval. The City Manager has this power for all other City Department heads, and this change is viewed as correcting an omission in the Charter.
- Giving the Council the authority to bond up to $1 million without voter approval. The current limit is $250,000, but that amount doesn’t buy what it used to when the Charter was first approved. Separate changes will increase the bonding amount for both emergency and non-emergency situations.
- Changing the required number of Planning Board votes for approval to four, which is a majority of the entire seven-member Board. Currently the Charter only requires approval by a majority of those members present.
- Addition of definitions for several terms used throughout the Charter, including Municipal Officer, Department of Education, Ordinance and Resolution.
The Council ran out of time before getting to the final recommendation, which would change the size and makeup of the Budget Committee. That will be discussed at the next Council meeting on August 2.
Before the meeting adjourned, Councilor Bob Stackpole recommended residents who are concerned about the budget voting process go back and view the videos of the Charter Review Committee meetings to see how few members of the public attended live and via Zoom. “When you think about public engagement on a lot of these things, the evidence just isn’t there that there is that desire,” he said. The videos are available on the Town Hall Streams site here.
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