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Charter reviewers dive into issues

Mechanics of Town Council among first tasks

October 06, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Recent events again reared their head Tuesday as the Charter Review Committee dove into the first meaty section of its year-long charge to recommend changes to the town's governing document.

One of the potentially biggest proposals would have changed the council's size and how it's elected. Member Kenneth O'Brien, a former councilor, suggested a five-member council with two-year terms elected by precinct, prompted in part by a letter from resident James Sottile.

That immediately sparked skepticism.

"Do you think that's healthy to have all councilors up every two years especially when you have a lot of items on the table?" asked member Gary Fontaine, a former police chief. "It takes two years just to get trained and get into synch."

O'Brien said he thinks the current system could create "too much of a disconnect" between residents and councilors, who may prefer having a specific councilor to go to for their issues.

But Chairman Laurent "Butch" McDonald noted that can also create conflicts. While Southbridge had a precinct system, one of his precinct's councilors was his father, a situation that created "the appearance of impropriety" even for mundane problems. At the time, he could go to the other councilor or an at-large member, and he said he thought having them all remain at-large would both attract better candidates and make it easier for people to find someone to help them.

The current charter, McDonald added, is "a fundamentally sound document."

See Thursday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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