Charter changes headed for votes at Town Meeting

Sep 14, 2020

The Charter Review Group held a public hearing on Monday night to discuss the warrant articles that will be up for votes at the Fall Town Meeting.

The Town’s Charter is a legal document that outlines the structure of Wareham’s government and outlines the powers and duties of various committees and officials.

Within the charter is a provision that requires the Board of Selectmen to appoint a committee to review the charter and submit recommendations and proposed amendments and revisions to the charter every ten years.

The group has written two warrant articles, each of which includes many changes to the charter.

The first article includes changes to the grammar and structure of the charter, all of which are intended to make the charter easier to read and understand.

The second article includes all of the more substantive changes, including dissolving the Board of Road Commissioners, making the Town Clerk an appointed position, and making the Sewer Commissioner a position to be appointed by the Town Administrator rather than by the Board of Sewer Commissioners.

Although each article encompasses many changes, Town Meeting voters will have the chance to pull out individual changes for further discussion and separate votes. 

The procedure for voting on the articles will be the same as that for voting on the budget. Town Moderator Claire Smith will read the subheads for each section, and any voter will be able to call out “Hold!” to pull that piece out for discussion or modification and a separate vote.

Members of the Charter Review Group said that they chose to organize the articles in this way at the suggestion of Town Counsel and Town Moderator to make the process as streamlined as possible. 

While the group said this will wrap up their review of the Charter, they have suggested a provision that would allow the Board of Selectmen to call for another charter review before 2029, if they so choose, noting that the nature of municipal governing seems to be changing quickly.

Making the Town Clerk an appointed rather than elected position has become somewhat of a trend across Massachusetts, said group member Judith Whiteside. Member Holli Van Nest also pointed out that the Town Clerk is currently the only department head who does not report to the Town Administrator. 

Jaqui Nichols, another group member, added that the Town Clerkship is now a position that requires a set of specific professional skills, including extensive legal knowledge.

Members said that current Town Clerk Michele Bissonnette is in favor of this change.

The group has also proposed making the appointment of the sewer superintendent the responsibility of the Town Administrator rather than the Board of Sewer Commissioners. All other sewer department employees are under the control of the Town Administrator already, and the Sewer Commissioners have endorsed this change.

The duties of the Road Commissioners would be transferred back to the Board of Selectmen, who were in charge of those tasks before the Road Commission was created in 2010. The assessor’s office, however, would be responsible for numbering lots. The Board of Selectmen are by default responsible for the roads under Massachusetts law unless they delegate those responsibilities to another group. Past discussion has shown the current selectmen are in favor of this change.

The group has also made several other changes to the selectmen’s procedures: The selectmen would now only be able to weigh in on the appointment of department heads by the Town Administrator, who would have sole hiring authority over other positions. 

If the selectmen were unhappy with the Town Administrator’s performance, four of the board’s five members would need to vote to adopt a preliminary resolution for the removal or suspension of the Town Administrator.

For links to the documents produced by the Charter Review Group, and to an explanation of the suggested changes to the charter, go to the town’s website,