A tale of two charters: Scituate Charter Commission final draft completed

A tale of two charters: Scituate Charter Commission final draft completed

SCITUATE – After 10 months, the Scituate Charter Commission has completed a final draft of a proposed charter to be submitted to the Town Council for recommendations and approval before sending it to voters, a week after a home rule charter petition was verified to be placed on the November ballot.

The commission’s charter, a 55-page document outlining the town’s laws and government, was finished and submitted for the council’s approval on April 25, and made available for voter review online.

Highlights of the commission’s charter include a two-year term limits for the Town Council and School Committee, whose members may not serve more than eight years in a 12-year period. The School Committee would have staggered terms, while council elections would continue every two years.

There would be seven council seats, four that are town-wide, and three from new council districts to be drawn by the local board of canvassers. As of now, all council seats are town-wide.

“The goal is that sections of Scituate which feel that maybe they’ve been unrepresented in the past on the council, particularly in the villages of Hope and maybe Potterville, will have a designated person that is guaranteed,” Chairman Michael Marcello said.

The position of a council-appointed town manager would be created in Scituate, an important change Marcello says is long overdue.

“We’re long past the time where you could operate a town government with a part-time Town Council,” he said.

“The issues facing municipalities are getting more complicated and it’s become evident to me and the commission that it’s very difficult to expect a corporation with a $35 million budget to be operating without someone who is there on a day-to-day basis.”

Additionally, the charter proposes minimum education requirements for town department head positions, a requirement that all town jobs be posted a minimum of 10 days prior to being filled, and prohibits political stacking on boards and commissions.

The Town Council may approve the commission’s charter as is, or make amendments before approval. If approved, it will go to the General Assembly for passage. Next, the charter will go on the November ballot for voters’ approval before being enacted.

Even then, the charter will not go into effect until 2020, due to it being on the November ballot.

Marcello said he is proud of the document the commission created, but acknowledged that the timing could be confusing for voters.

“The people that are going to get elected in 2018 have the right to finish their terms for two years. It’s a little confusing, but at the very same time you’re proposing and approving a charter, you‘re electing people under the old government, and they have the right to finish their term,” he said.

Marcello explained that if a proposed home rule charter commission takes a year to complete a separate home rule charter, which is also the time limit written in the home rule charter’s laws, it would be complete in 2019, waiting to be on the November 2020 ballot. Then, similar to the Charter Commission’s charter, it would need to wait two years before going into effect.

If the home rule should finish in time to get on the ballot in November 2018, both can be approved, with the home rule trumping the legislative charter.

“This can go on a double track,” Marcello said.

The difference between a legislative and home rule charter is that under a home rule, more responsibility is given to the local government from the state legislature to the community.

In a legislative charter, the town adopts specific charter ordinances that differ from state statutes or local acts of state legislature. Both need approval from the General Assembly.

Until the approval of a charter, Scituate remains the only community in Rhode Island with neither a legislative nor home rule charter. Beginning this year, the Town Council pushed for the town to create a charter.

“There was so much that was left to chance. So many unanswered question when you don’t have a charter. State statutes don’t answer every circumstance or power or issue that can come to town. This clarifies who has the power to do what, and when and how they can exercise that power,” said Marcello.

He emphasized that the commission was specifically instructed by the current Town Council to draft a legislative charter.

“I give this council of both parties credit for recognizing the need to modernize and give some structure to Scituate’s government,” he said.

Marcello said he and other members of the Charter Commission intend to run for the Home Rule Charter Commission on a June special election ballot.

Some 30 or more people have already signed up to run to be on the Home Rule Charter Commission.

Advocates behind a home rule charter petition have said they want the majority of power to stay with the town instead of the state.

Comments

Marcello's deal with the devil ( the Independent Men) has backfired in Scituate. The good people of Scituate have been to the puppet show and seen the strings of this majority council. Restore the power to the people and dump the Independent Men and Mr Marcello this election cycle.