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Caution urged on charter changes


Send major revisions to voters, committee told


July 21, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The public has had its first look at the range of changes the Charter Review Committee is proposing to the town's governing document, and the few in the Town Hall audience had plenty to say about it.

For the most part, the comments were general warnings to the committee to stay focused on the long-term town interest rather than either current political goals or making change for its own sake. They also urged the committee to send significant changes — such as an elected Board of Health — to the voters for approval.

"You perceive a change, but I don't see a need for substantial change. … I think there's an agenda to change because some decisions aren't liked," said resident Dick Whitney after praising the committee's effort. "… Reorganization happens all the time, and it's not [always] good."

Chairman Laurent "Butch" McDonald noted state law requires "substantive enough changes" to the town council or overall government structure to be addressed by an elected charter review commission "and that would open up the whole charter" to revision. Under such circumstance, the results have to to go the ballot, but it's not yet clear whether his committee's work does, or whether it can be approved by the council and/or the Legislature. Even if the latter is true, the Legislature might still send it back to a ballot vote, he said.

Besides proposing an elected health board, the committee's recommendations include: taking the power to appoint the town attorney from the manager and giving it to the council chairman; adding an ability to remove the council vice-chair; reducing the vote turnout required for recall elections to 15 percent (now 25); eliminating the three-term limit for councilors; clearly defining the requirement for "special" and "emergency" meetings; eliminating voting rights for citizen subcommittee members; adding a clause preventing town employees from sitting on boards that oversee their departments; and changing the annual election to the first Friday in June.

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

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