Charter Commission Proposal: Year-Round Democracy

On March 27th, we’ll be voting on a sensible update to our town government. Here are some of the key features of this proposal, which was generated by our elected fellow citizens after 18 months of research, deliberation, listening sessions, community forums, and 65 public meetings – not to mention countless conversations in grocery store checkout lines:

-Keeps our professional Town Manager, a municipal administrator hired on the basis of expertise to manage day-to-day operations, with supervision and policy leadership from a year-round Town Council.

-A 13-member Town Council combines the thoughtful deliberation of our 5-person Select Board and the neighborhood representation of Town Meeting into one elected decision-making body that meets year-round. Each voter is represented by 2 district representatives and 3 at-large members.

-Keeps our many citizen boards and committees. We currently have 49 committees staffed by 351 volunteer citzens that propose policy for our town.  These will continue to offer residents opportunities to get involved and create policy. And now they will be heard by elected leaders year-round rather than our occasional Town Meeting, which often ignores their work.

-“Voter veto” on Town Council decisions. Residents can currently collect signatures to require our legislature or the voters at large to vote on citizen proposals. The new proposal also enables residents to force a town-wide vote to overturn a Town Council decision.

-Town elections in November, in odd years between state and federal elections. Research suggests an election day at the same time each year will increase voter turnout.

-A voting commission on “ranked choice voting” – also known as instant runoff voting. Adopted in a range of progressive places from Portland, Maine, to Berkeley, California, it is widely hailed by democracy advocates as a model that more fairly represents the full spectrum of voters.

-Thoughtful planning. The Council is required to adopt a master plan as a foundation for zoning decisions. And unlike our current Town Meeting, the Council will be able to deliberate, take input, and be fully informed before voting on complex planning and spending issues.