Scituate Charter Commission non-partisan, moving forward

Scituate Charter Commission non-partisan, moving forward

Believe it or not, there are two paths to a more comprehensive governing document for Scituate. Scituate’s current governing law, written in 1915, outlines a bare bones government structure that establishes the Town Council as the all-powerful governing body. Previous town councils apparently liked the deposit of all this power and sought legislative amendments to the 1915 law on at least eight occasions (most without voter approved). Therefore, it is not surprising that the current Town Council unanimously passed a resolution and appointed seven local residents (via an open application process) to craft a comprehensive legislative charter. The seven-member diverse Charter Commission, which includes the current chairman of the local GOP, has met 13 times since August 2017 getting public input. The proposed charter will only become effective with voter approval in November 2018.

Recently, another group started the process to collect signatures to start a Home Rule process that has existed since 1954 in our state constitution but has never been by evoked by previous town councils. That process begins with a valid petition of at least 15 percent of voters followed by a ballot question asking voters if the town should adopt a Charter. If a majority votes no, the process ends. If a majority votes yes, a nine-member elected body then has one year to propose a Charter which will then have to be approved by the voters just like the legislative charter.

The continued quest for a legislative charter, if approved by the voters, will ensure the Scituate’s government gets updated just as it has done in the past without the need for a petition drive and further delay while this competing Home Rule process plays out (with or without success). The notion that a Home Rule Charter ensures independence from the state legislature is simply false since Article 13 of the State Constitution give cities and town the right to adopt a charter not inconsistent with the laws passed by the General Assembly. This is an extremely limiting provision as recognized by the state courts and explains why even those communities that have adopted Home Rule charters and subsequent amendments seek General Assembly approval of Home Rule changes.

The current duly elected Town Council asked that the current Charter Commission complete its task. Not one GOP or independent member expressed any reservation over the legislative charter. All our meetings are public. All our work date can be found on the town’s website. It is fascinating that those who had the power to advocate for a Home Rule in the past did nothing when a different group held all the levers of power and proposed legislative changes, but now have come to the revelation that a Home Rule charter for the town government is needed. Either way, it appears that Scituate is on its way to losing the sad distinction of being the only community without any Charter. The real question is not what type of charter should Scituate have but why weren’t these reforms pursued in the past?

Michael J. Marcello


Marcello is chairman of the Charter Commission and a former Democratic state representative.