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FinCom Looks at Proposed Revised Charter

The Government Study Task Force presented recommended changes to the revised Town Charter.

The Westwood Government and Charter Study Task Force presented a Home Rule Petition to the Finance Commission in a public hearing Monday night, which petitions to for the town of Westwood.

During a presentation, Task Force Chair Peter Cahill said that he and a large group have been working on th revisions since October of 2009.

On Dec. 8, 2010, a draft of the recommended charter and summary was published; Cahill noted that the collaborative effort of information gathering has led to changes of language throughout the charter and a series of recommended revisions.

Cahill listed key recommendations during his presentation, which included holding a second town meeting during the fall months. The Task Force also recommended a new pre-petition process, which he said the group is excited about because it could avoid many potential problems.

One recommendation by the Task Force, Cahill noted, was in regards to a change of title from Executive Secretary to Town Administrator. Cahill said that the Executive Secretary, in most towns, usually has less authority. However, in Westwood’s case, the position is more like a Town Administrator.

Another recommendation was an option for appointment of associate members to certain boards as well as renaming the Finance Commission.

“What we found is that the sense is that the ‘Finance Commission’ doesn’t convey the broad scopes of the efforts of this particular body,” said Cahill. “Currently, the recommended title is Finance and Warrant Commission. I feel this better helps define the role.”

He also said the Task Force recommends incorporating modern “best practices” when appropriate and having a mandatory periodic review of the charter.

Other items were considered, but after discussion throughout many parties, no change was recommended. One was the change of town meeting structure. Currently Westwood has an open town meeting structure, and upon review, the collective sense is that it is something meaningful and cherished by citizens of the town.

There will also be no change to existence, composition or length of any elected office. On the same page, there will be no artificial term limits on any of the town’s elected officials. Another consideration that was shot down was precinct representation.

Cahill said that this would include dividing the town and having a certain number of Selectmen per precinct, and that it is not appropriate in Westwood, but it was discussed.

Finance Commission Chair Mary Masi-Phelps asked if there were any significant changes in the actual role of certain positions, such as the town administrator.

Task Force member Alice Moore said that the proposed town administrator position is based around what other towns are doing. The Task Force, she said, looked at the town manager approach, but heard at public hearings that the public essentially likes the way the town's government works.

She said that some changes have been made, and that it is clear that the Board of Selectmen is the top entity and that the Town Administrator, reporting to the Board of Selectmen, is very much in charge of running the ins and outs of Town Hall.

“The town administrator position that we crafted is really kind of a hybrid that has some elements of town manager but is a solid town administrator model,” said Moore.

The Government Study Task Force will meet on March 15 and again with the Finance Commission on March 21. If business is not completed that night, it will continue on March 22.

Greg Agnew March 04, 2011 at 04:53 AM
It's surprising the neither the FinCom, nor the Government Study Task Force mentioned the petition article that Michael Walsh and I both presented and authored that would have moved the Town Election to Saturday. My research proved back in 2009 that when neighboring towns moved their elections to a day other than Tuesday, participation rose about 23%, which is quite significant. It also cut down the risks of children, especially at the elementary school level, from being injured by the heavy increase in vehicles coming in and out of the school driveways on Election Day. The Task Force claims to have been formed in response to the three petition articles filed in 2009, but failed to find supportive reasoning for any of them to be placed before the FinCom, or Town Meeting once again. Nor have they proposed any truly significant changes. Most changes were focused on gender referrals in the charter, and non-substantive title changes for the Finance Director and Town Administrator. In closing, I believe the FinCom and Task Force are making a good decision by not re-considering the plan to divide Westwood into precincts and have one Selectman represent each precinct (with one at large), but I still believe that Westwood needs a 5-member Board of Selectmen, and needs to move their Election Day to Saturday. Unfortunately, even after the task force has presented their findings, there is still work to be done. I commend all of those who put their time and effort into this GSTF.

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