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It's all up to Council

Charter panel concludes work

August 17, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The Charter Review Committee concluded its work Tuesday with everything but gift-wrapping its proposal for changing the town's governing document. It plans to present that year-long work to the Town Council next Monday.

But before it could congratulate itself, the panel had to deal with a couple of lingering issues. It unanimously approved asking the Council to have a non-binding referendum added to the 2011 town election ballot. Crafted by member Ken O'Brien, the question asks voters to pick which governing system they prefer — an elected mayor and council (Worcester's system), an elected council and appointed manager (Southbridge's current system), or a selectmen and annual town meeting (the system that existed prior to the first charter in the 1970s).

Regarding a more controversial issue, the panel revisited how it wanted to recommend transitioning to a three-person elected Board of Health. Originally, they had considered having one member face election per year until all three had switched from their current appointed status, but decided instead to have all three face the ballot at once. To maintain the legally-required "staggered" terms, the top vote-getter will get three years, second place, two years and third place, one year.

Member Gary Fontaine said he contacted 24 communities that have landfills — some private, some public — and found 19 of them have three-member health boards (including Southbridge) and four of them have five members. One, Peabody, didn't respond. He did not ask how many were elected, he said.

"I had a couple phone calls [at home] saying it's important we have a five-member board," he explained. "… Maybe we did put the cart before the horse [with initially voting for three], but after doing the research, 90 percent are three."

After a question from the small audience prompted some head-scratching and reference to months-old minutes, the committee also voted to eliminate two proposals that would have expanded the number of things that are ineligible petition subjects under section 12-2-1. Those had been proposed by O'Brien, but he said he could not "recall writing anything like that" and didn't know what he'd intended.

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

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