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Public Hearing on Changes to Town Charter

On Tuesday, July 9th, 2024, at 7 pm the Charlestown Town Council will hold a public hearing (information here) on proposed amendments to the Town Charter (here) to be placed on the November ballot for the voters' consideration.


Charlestown's Home Rule Charter establishes the Town government's powers, organization, function, and duties.


For over a year, the appointed Charter Revision Advisory Committee has reviewed the Charter, solicited suggestions, and had discussions leading to a public hearing by the Committee in April 2024. Meetings in 2024 have been recorded with video available via the town website. Minutes from earlier meetings are available here.


The Committee referred 17 possible changes to our Town Council for consideration and the Council has had discussions on this topic at two Town Council meetings. The Council voted to take 11 of the proposed changes to the Public Hearing scheduled for July 9.


After the public input at the July 9 hearing, the Council will decide which questions to bring to the voters in November.



Summary of Questions:

Question 1: Would change the term of office for Town Councilors from two (2) year terms to four (4) year staggered terms. Currently, the entire Council (5 members) is elected each year. By staggering the terms, two (2) in one election and three (3) in the other, it would allow for continuity between Councils and the continuation of long-term projects, like multi-year projects such as rebuilding the Charlestown Breachway West wall (here).


Question 2: Will ensure all elected Councilors can place items on the council agenda in the future. Under past councils, controlled Charlestown Citizens Alliance majorities, council members in the minority had items removed from the agenda thus reducing their effectiveness as councilors. This tactic is censorship, plain and simple. When the current Council took office in 2022, they immediately changed the Council rules to allow all members to be heard by the Council. Question 2's passage will solidify that future Councils cannot silence any duly elected representatives of the people from having a voice.


Question 3: Allows the Town Council to determine how proposed amendments to ordinances are published to the public by ordinance. Many other towns follow this same standard. Currently Charlestown is required to publish the changes at a significant cost to the taxpayer in a local newspaper.


Question 4: If approved, this amendment would require advertising the vacancy of Town Administrator and provide the Town Council with the discretion of whether to establish a search committee. As each situation for hiring an administrator is unique to the circumstances, this change would allow the Council flexibility in the process of appointing a new administrator.


Questions 5, 6, & 7: Largely administrative. They change the delivery of the completed budget to the Council, comply with state law regarding the manner of voting, and set the date of the tax rate each year respectively.


Question 8: Would require the town to provide emergency medical services to the citizens of Charlestown. This requirement can be either through creating a town department or, as is the case now, through a contract with a third service. On October 10th, 2024, the current Town Council approved an agreement with the Charlestown Ambulance and Rescue Service to fully fund them over the next three years while they guarantee 24/7 coverage at the advanced life support level (see agreement here). This service to all of Charlestown's residents cost the taxpayer approximately $0.04 per thousand for FY 2024. A $500,000 home represents a $20 increase in tax burden this year. Over three (3) years of this contract means approximately $0.12 or $60. That is a small price for guaranteeing an ambulance arrives when you call 911.


Question 9: Would reduce the terms of the elected planning commission members from six (6) years to four (4) years by electing two (2) members in one election cycle and three (3) members in the other, resulting in four (4) year staggered terms. Reducing the terms allows the voters to have more choice in commission turnover while still allowing the terms to be long enough for the continuity and continuation of long-term projects and applications.


Question 10: Will bring meeting quorum and voting requirements in line with applicable state laws.


Question 11: Would allow the Town Council to simultaneously appoint persons to more than one (1) position. The town has multiple open positions on various boards, committees, and commissions. As of the June 24th, 2024 meeting, thirty-nine (39) open vacancies exist (list of positions here). This change would allow, for example, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission to also serve as a member of the mosquito abatement commission.


Please come out and participate in the public hearing. The Council will be happy to answer any questions you have. Your voice matters, and this is your Charter.


If you are unable to come in person, join the meeting virtually. However, if you watch online, per RI law, you cannot participate in the meeting.


You can also email comments to the Town Clerk at arweinreich@charlestownri.gov to be entered into the record for the meeting.

 

With Thanks,

Tim Quillen, Chair

Charlestown Residents United

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