Town meeting voters consider charter

Apr 24, 2019

On Tuesday, Town Meeting moved the dates that warrant articles need to be finalized for Town Meeting along with the date of town elections, rejected a move to eliminate periodic citizens review of the town charter, and narrowly defeated a proposal to allow Community Preservation Committee funding requests to go directly to Town Meeting without needing the Selectmen's approval.

Two of the articles concerned the town charter, which is a legal document that outlines the structure of Wareham’s government and outlines the powers and duties of various committees and officials.

Article 14 of the warrant would delete the charter review committee. 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 committee is to be formed in each year that ends with a nine, and the committee’s recommendations are to be submitted to the first town meeting in each year ending in zero.

However, Selectman Peter Teitelbaum said that the charter can only be changed by a charter commission — not a review committee — or through a citizens’ petition.

Teitelbaum also argued that not everyone is qualified to make changes to the town’s charter.

“Simply put, you wouldn’t send your iPhone to a remote Amazonian tribe to be repaired, and neither should you expect untrained citizens to successfully come up with ways to revamp the document that functions as the town constitution,” Teitelbaum said.

Teitelbaum also referenced the difficulty of the last charter review, during which the committee submitted dozens of articles and proposed overhauling the Board of Selectmen in favor of a mayor and town counsel. According to Teitelbaum, the articles caused town meeting to stretch across multiple nights and some of the articles were, in fact, illegal.

“I wish to reiterate that this is my government,” said Robert Pigeon of the Financial Committee. “I have the right to change it any time I choose. I don’t have to have any qualifications other than I pay my taxes here, I’m a resident here.”

Sandy Slavin argued the charter review committee is a fundamental right of the citizens.

“It’s our right to review the charter,” Slavin said. “It’s our right to say to the selectmen what we want our government to be and to do.”

Slavin urged people to apply. So far, there have only been three applicants for the nine-seat committee, of which Slavin was one. Those interested in applying should contact the Board of Selectmen’s office.

The article failed.

Sandy Slavin proposed an amendment to the charter, which was article 23 on the warrant. If approved, the article would allow any town meeting article proposed by the Community Preservation Committee to be placed directly on the town’s warrant.

Currently, the selectmen act as the gatekeepers of the warrant and decide whether to allow articles onto the warrant or not. Citizens petitions are, however, always allowed onto the warrant.

Slavin, who clarified that she authored the petition entirely independently and without consulting the CPC, said the petition was prompted by the selectmen’s repeated downvoting of funding for new housing units at Agawam Village over the course of three years.

“It’s our money, and I think we should always have a chance to say yay or nay,” said Slavin.

Selectman Alan Slavin argued against the petition, saying that it is unfair to exempt one committee from a process that applies to all the others.

Pigeon pointed out the selectmen’s role in screening warrant articles for legality, and said that the board does not make a decision on the worth of the article.

“The process works,” said Pigeon.

After a close voice vote, moderator Claire Smith called for a vote. Although more people voted for the article (37) than against (29), the article failed because changes to the charter require a ⅔ vote.

Voters approved changes to the structure and timing of town meetings. Article 15, which was largely drafted by town counsel Richard Bowen, would change the dates that warrant articles need to be finalized.

The change that will most directly impact voters is the swap of spring town meeting and the town’s election. Currently, the election is held a few weeks before town meeting. Going forward, the spring town meeting will be held on the fourth Monday in April and the town election will be held on the first Tuesday in May. The fall town meeting will take place on the fourth Monday in October.