Charter commission wants voters to consider new document
By: Laura M. Reckford
Richard Clark, who served as chairman of the Barnstable Charter Commission, said the updated town charter document his committee spent 18 months on may not be perfect. But, he said, it is better than what exists now. Voters will get an opportunity to weigh in on the document at the town election on November 3.
The most important change in the new charter document, Mr. Clark said, is that it will give more power to each and every voter in town. It reduces the size of the Barnstable Town Council and gives each voter the right to elect seven members, or a majority, of what would be an 11-member board.
The way it works now is that voters only cast ballots for the town councilor from their precinct, who is one of 13 councilors on the board.
“We’re trying to stress that people need more of a say,” Mr. Clark said. “We feel that’s a big change. We don’t know if it’s the best way to do things, but we think it should be looked at.”
If it does not work, the charter can be changed again, Mr. Clark said. In fact, the commission felt that the document should be reviewed every six years to see if any changes need to be made. That is another big change in the document from what exists now.
Mr. Clark also noted the new town council president position in the document, an element that took the idea of a mayor and modified it to a more powerful member of the town’s legislative body.
“The fact that you will have somebody in a position of authority, we’re hoping more people will be interested in the job,” Mr. Clark said. Another change in the document that is getting a lot of attention is the change in the size of the school committee—from five to seven members—with the town council president serving as chairman of the body. Mr. Clark said that is a way to bring the town council and the school committee closer and improving communication between the two bodies. He pointed out that making the school committee larger was a suggestion of the current chairman of the school committee.
A number of other changes to the charter have to do with putting it into compliance with state law and clarifying ambiguities.
“The big thing is the fact that the town manager stays in his current position and has the same authority, and the town council president has more responsibility,” Mr. Clark said.
Lucien Poyant, who also served on the charter commission, said the change to electing seven councilors is a major step forward for voters in town. As it stands now, “my councilor is one thing, but if there are those on the council who are not pleasing me, I can’t do anything about that,” he said. “That’s one thing this charter deals with.”
Mr. Poyant said he believes Mr. Clark did an outstanding job heading up the charter commission, which by state law serves as a Constitutional Convention for the town.
Mr. Poyant said that while there were some members of the charter commission, including himself, who felt the town of Barnstable should have a mayor, the majority of comments from the public did not support that change. He said that this charter, if it passes, should be thought of as an “incremental charter,” with more changes to come as the town evolves over time.
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