Charter Review Committee Looks at Barnstable’s Governing Document

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Barnstable town councilors Frederick Chirigotis, Jennifer Cullum and Paul Hebert at a recent meeting of the Town Council's Charter Review Committee.

Barnstable town councilors Frederick Chirigotis, Jennifer Cullum and Paul Hebert at a recent meeting of the Town Council’s Charter Review Committee.

HYANNIS – A subcommittee of the Barnstable Town Council is going through the town’s charter, looking to clarify or change aspects of the town’s governing document.

Town Council President Jessica Rapp-Grassetti formed the charter committee in the spring, appointing six town councilors to give the charter a close look.

Town Councilor Jennifer Cullum is chair of the committee and members are Town Council Vice President Ann Canedy, and town councilors Frederick Chirigotis, Will Crocker Jr. and Paul Hebert.

The first meeting was April 2. In the meetings since then, the committee has looked at specific sections of the charter that they might want to amend for purposes of clarification, Cullum said.

One section the committee has discussed is term limits for town councilors. The charter section states that town councilors are limited to three consecutive terms or 12 years.

“The term limit thing was very confusing for some, because you could be [elected] for three four-year terms but sometimes we don’t have four-year terms,” Cullum said. For example, she said she has been elected to two two-year terms, and this November she is on the ballot for election for a four-year term.

Cullum said the charter review committee is looking in some cases for more clarity.

“We’re highlighting certain things that are sticky wickets. Public comment is always there, so if anyone has a particular issue they’d like examined, we have a little time here,” she said.

At last week’s charter review meeting, the committee looked at the parliamentary procedure known as a charter objection. One issue with it, Town Attorney Ruth Weil said, is that there is confusion on when is the proper time to use it.

Chirigotis said, he is in favor of eliminating the charter objection provision in the charter.

He said, the charter objection tends to be used when a lone councilor or minority group of councilors wants to kill a measure.

“I’ve never been a fan of it. It’s been used in limited fashion. It’s always very disruptive. It’s used when there is not a will of the majority. The council should be majority rules,” he said.

The charter objection can stop a vote on a measure, but if the measure is time sensitive, it can serve to effectively block it, Weil said.

“It’s pulling a fast one,” Cullum said during the committee’s discussion of charter objections. But Weil clarified, “It’s a parliamentary tool.”

Another issue the committee discussed last week was whether the town collector’s position should be appointed or elected. Committee members voted unanimously that it should be appointed.

The issue of whether to change the collector position from elected to appointed has appeared on the ballot twice but has not passed, Weil said.

Also at last week’s meeting, Barnstable Finance Director Mark Milne made a presentation on whether the charter’s stipulation for a 10-year financial forecast should be changed to a five-year forecast.

Milne recommended the forecast be changed to five years, though he said that for some projects, like sewer planning, a longer term forecast, like 20 years, may be appropriate.

Weil explained the process of changes to the charter. She said, timing prevents any proposed amendments from being before voters until the town election in 2017. Because of timing provisions for elections, no changes could be ready by this November’s election.

But another option for making changing to the charter is through a petition to the state legislature. That route requires town council approval.

Cullum said the committee’s meetings are open to the public and committee members will be looking for the public’s opinion if they decide to make any changes to the charter. The committee may be changed to include at large members from the public, she said.

“We always invite the public to any of our meetings to come and chime in and review the charter with us,” she said. “We may get to the point at some point where we do an at large committee which has a couple people from the public on it as well. We’re not there yet, though.”

At the next meeting, the committee plans to take up the issue of citizen relief mechanisms in the charter.

The next meeting will be on November 5 at 5:30 p.m. at Barnstable Town Hall.

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