Town Charter Revisions to be Decided at Town Election Next Week
Voters will have the chance to approve revisions to the charter, which hasn't been updated since the mid-1980s.
What began as an effort in the fall of 2009 to revise and update Westwood's town charter is now about to come full circle.
Last May, revisions to the Town Charter, which hasn't been updated since the mid-1980s, were passed through Westwood's Annual Town Meeting. Additionally, the revisions passed both branches of the state legislature and were signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday, March 19.
Now the issue comes back to Westwood voters, who, come Tuesday, April 24, will have the chance to approve the revisions.
"It started in October of 2009, and it's culminating now," said Peter Cahill, Chair of the Westwood Government and Charter Study Task Force. "We're comfortable that the process has resulted in a strong, updated and revised charter."
Westwood's town charter was adopted in 1970, and while a review process was conducted in the late 1980s, no updates were made at the time. The Government and Charter Study Task Force was then tasked in 2009 with looking at ways to update the document to help better reflect more current roles and actions in the town's government. The task force held more than 30 public meetings to provide their findings and gather input from residents on how to embolden the charter.
"It hasn't been updated since 1985," said Task Force Vice Chair Karen Manor Metzold. "It's in the best interest of governing our town to implement some of the changes that are recommended in this revised charter."
Those recommended changes include adding a fall Town Meeting, creating an optional pre-petition process, incorporating a periodic charter review and expanding upon responsibilities of the Town Administrator, among other revisions.
"It's stale," Cahill said of the current charter. "The charter [...] doesn't quite reflect at all what we do. It's not a radical change, but it is important for us to feel like we're up to date."
The idea behind the revisions, said Metzold, are "to update our town, to have some of the positions be more reflective of what they're truly doing day to day, and also give a few key positions more responsibility."
And now the choice is in the hands of Westwood voters, who will have the chance to vote in favor of the revisions.
"It's the final part of the process we envisioned," said Cahill. "Part of what we wanted to do was say it will go to the legislature, but it needs to have the final stamp of approval by the town at the April election. We wanted to follow through with a commitment that it would have a final say by the people in Town Meeting."
Neither Metzold nor Cahill said they felt there would be a strong opposition to the revisions on the ballot, but both acknowledged the potential for voter apathy on the matter.
"As much as the Task Force is excited about the updated charter, we understand that some of the elements in the scope of it are not as exciting to many folks," Cahill said.
If the changes were not approved by a majority vote at Tuesday's Town Election, Metzold said, the matter would have to go back through the entire process again, from being passed at Town Meeting to the legislature.
But, Cahill added, that may be attributed to the more than 30 public meetings the Task Force had on the proposed revisions leading up to Town Meeting.
The revisions to the town charter are summarized in a question on the election ballot for next Tuesday, and will appear as follows:
Shall an act passed by the General Court in the year 2012, entitled "An Act Providing for a Charter for the Town of Westwood", be accepted?
The proposed revised Charter, approved by the May 2, 2011 Annual Town Meeting, approved revision of the Town Charter as recommended by the Government and Charter Study Task Force Committee. Changes to the Charter include, but are not limited to: formally recognizing and defining the position and authority of the Town Administrator; creating a Municipal Finance Department and formally recognizing and defining the position and authority of the Director of Municipal Finance; authorizing, but not requiring, the holding of a Fall Annual Town Meeting; creating a pre-petition process to assist with the form or petitioned warrant articles; authorizing not more than two associate members to serve on multiple-member bodies other than the Board of Selectmen and School Committee; changing the name of the Finance Commission to the Finance and Warrant Commission; and various ministerial and clerical corrections including capitalization, punctuation and the like.