WATERTOWN — The Town Charter Revision Commission, meeting on Tuesday, February 11, discussed updates of several sections of the Town Charter.
Chairman of the Charter Revision Commission Robert Kane said the only correspondence received was a timeline/roadmap of the charter’s progress from Attorney Franklin G. Pilicy.
The commission moved to new business regarding sections of the charter.
First, the commission discussed Section 501 of the charter, town government and town manager qualifications.
Mr. Kane said that after much discussion with residents and members of the town government, he feels that the town should continue with the same structure of government of a town manager and town council.
“We have had excellent bond ratings, we have had substantial fund balance, we have kept our taxes low, we have a great school system, great police department and volunteer fire department,” said Mr. Kane.
He said the town has great departments that are well run including public works and parks and recreation under the current form of government.
Mr. Kane referenced an article shared with him from vice chair of the commission Zaiga Antonetti. The article discussed another town in the state that was considering a governmental change.
He said the article reviewed continuity, ethics, special interests and elimination of politics when decisions are being made.
He agreed that the current town structure allows the town manager to be apolitical and in place to run the government. He said that it would remove politics from the equation.
Mr. Pilicy said that in Watertown, the town manager style of government began in 1961. Prior to 1961, the type of government was a board of selectmen.
He brought several books, including a town guide, the first compilation of ordinances and a book of minutes, and said there are additional documents in storage that can be retrieved for a fee if anyone is interested.
Most members of the commission were in favor of the current governmental structure.
Ms. Antonetti noted that the public is the deciding body of the town and not many members of the public have come forward in opposition to changing the structure.
Mr. Kane said that if approved by the commission, the public will have a chance to share their opinions.
Commission member Jeffrey Desmarais said he would prefer a mayoral structure government to allow accountability and independence to executive level of government.
“Electing the executive is an important part of our democracy to make sure that the people do in fact decide who that person is,” he said.
Commission member Andrew Prince stated his concern of any mention of accountability for the town manager mentioned in the charter, and suggested that there be a regular check in for the town manager.
According to Ms. Antonetti, there is a level of accountability and system in place that requires the town manager to complete an annual report to the town council, which the council then reviews.
The council is also responsible for setting the salary for the town manager which can be assessed upon their review.
Mr. Pilicy said the charter states the council has a procedure that allows them to remove the town manager from the position, if they have lost faith or confidence in that person. He said that in the past, there have been two removals.
Mr. Kane proposed an idea that he had researched from another town charter which was to include the qualifications for a town manager in the charter.
Overall, the commission did not like the idea because they believed it could require further changes to the charter and limit the applicant’s experience and education.
The commission decided to deny the idea of including the town manager qualifications in the charter and approved a motion to retain the town manager/town council form of government, with one opposition from Mr. Desmarais.
The commission discussed Section 603, public buildings. According to Mr. Pilicy, Director of Public Works Roy Cavanaugh reached out to him to ask about a contradiction in Section 603.
The charter section says that public works has control of all public buildings and construction projects.
However, according to Mr. Kane, the finance director oversees the maintenance of public buildings and public works oversees new construction.
Mr. Pilicy said he would draft new language that would clarify the contradictions and said that Finance Director Susan Zappone and Mr. Cavanaugh would be present at the next meeting to review and discuss the proposed language.
The commission tabled the section until the next meeting.
The commission discussed Section 608, official bonds. Mr. Kane said that although this had been discussed at a prior meeting, he spoke to Lisa Dalton, the town clerk, who said she was bonded.
Mr. Pilicy and the commission agreed that Ms. Dalton and Assistant Town Clerk Sherry Cosmos should be bonded because they handle money, as discussed at the last commission meeting.
Mr. Pilicy recommended that the collector of revenue for the Water and Sewer Authority be included in bonded officials.
The commission approved a motion for new language to be added in Section 608 to include the town clerk, the assistant town clerk and the collector of revenue for the Water and Sewer Authority as individuals that should be bonded.
The commission reviewed the Water and Sewer consolidation ordinance that was adopted on November 6, 1973. They discussed if the Water and Sewer Authority should be made into a department.
Mr. Pilicy told the commission that the location, cost and personnel would not change. The only thing that would change is the terminology. He also said that although it is part of an ordinance, no further legislature would be required.
He said he would draft language for the next meeting. The commission asked that Superintendent Vincent Caterino be present at the meeting.
The commission discussed Section 801, retirement of municipal employees, which had been tabled because it requires new language.
Mr. Pilicy read the new language that generally said all retirement benefits are by virtue of contracts that are negotiated.
He said he would send the new language to Ms. Zappone for review and at the next meeting, it could be further discussed.