Charter Review Commission goes to work

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 6:00pm

The Charter Review Commission has rolled up its sleeves and begun work on advising the New Shoreham Town Council regarding potential amendments to the town’s Home Rule Charter. The Charter is the governing document for the Town of New Shoreham, and includes articles and provisions for the town’s rules and procedures.  

The commission decided at its Oct. 1 meeting that it needs to get more familiar with the Charter before embarking on its mission to review and amend the 22-page document. The newly formed six-member advisory commission will spend its next meeting, which is Monday, Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m., reviewing the Charter in depth.

During its last meeting, the commission spent an hour-and-a-half discussing potential ideas and amendments with three members of the Town Council: First Warden Ken Lacoste, and Councilors Martha Ball and Sven Risom. Town Manager Ed Roberge was also in attendance.

The Town Council appointed the six members to the Charter Review Commission on August 21. The commission has held two meetings to date, with its first session involving the election of officers, and to set a meeting schedule and organize its methods.

During its recent meeting, the commission and Town Council discussed the possible need for bringing some aspects of the Charter up to date. Some ideas bandied about were staggered terms for town elected officials, the process for electing a Second Warden, the potential change to electing, or possibly appointing, a town moderator, whether the Director of Public Works should be part of the Town Manager’s role, and if language for the definition of an island resident should be crafted in the Charter.

Commission member Rob Closter raised the question of defining the language for the definition of a resident. He cited an inconsistency in the town’s current language in various ordinances and license. “Should we include the definition in the Charter?” he asked. “Because residents for different boards and commissions and departments all mean different things. So, if there was one standard definition for what a resident should be, is this the time to include it in the Charter?”

“You may come up against the wall on that with regard to election laws,” said Councilor Martha Ball. “I don’t know. I think that’s a real wrinkle.”

“We attempted that by having it in our general ordinances,” said Vice Chair Kim Gaffett.

“It’s a fascinating question, in the sense that we apply five or six different versions of residents’ requirements” for town purposes, said Roberge. “Some of it is statutory based. And some of it is ordinance function-based.” He said, the question is, as has been discussed at Town Council meetings: “Can we apply one rule?” The problem, he said, is that “sometimes that conflicts with state law.”

“So, it’s hard to find that one magical formula,” he said, for the definition “that applies to each” purpose. Roberge noted that the Town’s Solicitor has reviewed the language as it applies to the town’s different applications.

“We’ve been applying a test of the standard,” he said. “I think we want to look at that a little better and apply that on a case-by-case basis. So, it’s tough to answer that question. You can’t really say, ‘Yes or no.’”

Gaffett thought it might be worthwhile for the commission to reference the town’s organizational chart for town employees, which Roberge has been drafting. Roberge informed the commission that the chart is expected to be completed at year’s end. “We’re a few months away from completing it,” he said.

“We could get a sense of direction” from that document, said Keith Stover, who is Chair of the commission.

“I can see this being a major part of our discussions,” said Gaffett.

At the tail end of the meeting, Stover said it might be helpful for the group to examine the charter. “I would like for us to sit down with the charter and go through it,” he said, noting that it would “be helpful” to the commission. “After we’ve done that we can get a sense of priority, and how we see the work flow going. Does that make sense?”

The commission members seemed to be in agreement with Stover about the need for reviewing the Charter. Secretary Lisa Robb remarked, “I think this is a great jumping off point.”

The last time the Charter was reviewed and revised was in 2010, and that document became effective on January 3 of 2011. The town’s Home Rule Charter was established in October of 1672. 

The next Charter Review Commission meeting is Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m.