Wareham to weigh smaller changes to town government
By Steve Decosta
October 25, 2010 12:00 AM
WAREHAM — Voters arriving for tonight's start of the annual fall Town Meeting could be settling in for a long haul.
The 91-article warrant is chock-full of controversial issues — including 31 proposed changes to the town's home rule charter — and town officials have reserved the high school auditorium for six days.
"I certainly hope we won't need more than that," Town Moderator Claire Smith said.
But they might. In the spring, it took five nights to slog through a warrant that contained a mere 56 articles.
Smith, who was elected moderator in April and will be conducting her second Town Meeting, had promised some changes, including a pre-Town Meeting that was attended by about 70 residents.
Beyond that, she said, "We're planning a more formal opening ceremony, which I hope will lead to a more formal tone."
Smith also will present a policy for reconsideration of previously voted articles, a matter of a little confusion at the spring Town Meeting. "I'm still struggling with it," she said last week. "There's no standard. Everybody does it differently. I'll decide how we'll handle it and it will be included in a guide to Town Meeting, which we plan to hand out to everyone."
The moderator said she believes there's not much she can do to speed up the pace of the meeting.
"It's got to take its own pace," Smith said. "We're there to debate the issues. We're there to discuss them. That can't be hurried. One thing I'm hoping is that we can get through (the discussions) without repeating things over and over."
Also under consideration is the possibility of discussing all the proposed charter changes on Saturday, Nov. 13. "We've reserved that date," Smith said, "but it's up to the body to decide."
The proposed charter changes are among the more controversial and time-consuming on the warrant. Because many of the proposed changes are interrelated, "we're going to have to take it slowly and make sure we get it right," Smith said.
After its plan to replace Town Meeting with a mayor-town council form of government was soundly rejected in the spring, the Charter Review Committee went back to the drawing board. This time around, instead of replacing the entire town charter, it is proposing 31 separate, smaller-scale changes.
But these changes would still have a big impact.
Foremost among them is an increase in the number of selectmen and School Committee members from five to seven, with six of each elected by precinct and one serving as a member at large.
Another article seeks to establish "official ballot" questions, allowing as few as 25 voters to petition for any Town Meeting warrant article to be decided by vote of the general electorate rather than in Town Meeting. If any articles would be so designated, the town would conduct a new election within 60 days of the end of Town Meeting.
The warrant says the proposal is designed to "increase voter participation for the most important articles affecting town residents."
Other proposals would give selectmen the power to appoint all members of the Finance Committee, Planning Board and Capital Planning Committee, now appointed by an authority consisting of the moderator and the chairmen of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee; establish a separate elected five-member Board of Sewer Commissioners, a role currently performed by selectmen; move the annual town election from the first Tuesday in April to the same day in May, with the spring Town Meeting convening during the fourth week in May; prevent elected officials from holding paid municipal positions; and allow non-resident property owners to serve on non-elected committees or boards.
Also back on the warrant is a plan to lease town-owned property known as Westfield for development of affordable senior housing, a proposal narrowly defeated in the two previous Town Meetings.
The first part of the warrant deals with financial issues, including the juggling of the municipal budget, funding various collective bargaining agreements, purchasing new equipment and spending Community Preservation Act funds.
I think it would be a perfect opportunity to have the BOS justify expenditures, like leasing Police cruisers, via your line item veto power. Put it all under a microscope, and force responsibility on those that are in charge of your money.
Now is the time to get answers to questions that have been ignored.