Review committee proposes to clean up town bylaws

Mar 19, 2024

The Bylaw Review Committee hopes to clean up the town's laws with two Town Meeting items that would address outdated laws and the Town Clerk's authority over bylaw formatting changes.

The item concerning the town clerk will allow them to make changes regarding the “ sequencing, numbering, lettering and formatting,” of town bylaws, said Bylaw Review Committee Chair Sherry Quirk. “It’s not talking about anything that has to do with what I would say is any real change, it’s just sort of bread-and-butter formatting and that’s it.”

The committee put together this item to clear up confusing sections of the town’s bylaws. 

Years of revisions have led to some incongruities — for instance, one part of the bylaws has two sections titled “Article 1,” while another is missing an “Article 1” entirely, the committee explained.

The other item to be presented at Town Meeting would remove a number of town bylaws that the committee has deemed unnecessary, outdated or inaccurate. 

The committee talked with a wide array of town officials while putting together the warrant article, collecting their suggestions for what bylaw sections should be removed, according to the committee. 

Some sections are on the chopping block because they cover topics already provided for by state law or by other town regulations, and are therefore unnecessary. For example, the current bylaws require the town assessor to publish a list of real estate values every three years, but that process is now covered by state law. 

Other bylaws are up for removal because they’re outdated and don’t match the way the town operates today. 

One bylaw governs the town’s provision of community health services — the town no longer has a community nurse to which it would apply. Another outlines a specific process for house numbering that’s not followed in practice because the assessors and the Road Commissioners have a different system today. 

A long list of street rules is also proposed for deletion. 

Some are covered by state law, for example a provision against discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling. Others are considered outdated or unnecessary like a bylaw prohibiting people from flying a kite or playing ball games on the streets. 

See the Bylaw Review Committee page on the Wareham town website for the full list. 

Speaking during a Thursday, March 14 public hearing, Affordable Housing Trust candidate Jim Munise questioned some proposed deletions. 

There is some rationale for a bylaw prohibiting playing ball in the street, Munise said — it could be impactful for people who “live on 40 by 80 lots, and the kid next door and the parents put up a basketball hoop in the street, and they’re out there banging the ball off the street, and its banging off your car and it’s banging off your house.” 

He asked that the committee consider the deletions more carefully. 

Munise and Select Board candidate Brenda Eckstrom also pointed to an article that identifies the town administrator as the enforcement officer for the town’s bylaws. The committee said it was unnecessary because each bylaw identifies its own enforcement officer. 

Munise and Eckstrom said it was helpful to have an enforcer of last resort to take responsibility. 

The articles will be voted on at Spring Town Meeting on Monday, April 22.