PEPPERELL -- Nine members strong and on an 18-month deadline, the Charter Commission is in the process of reviewing the make-up of Pepperell's government.
During its third meeting on June 6, the group opened a public hearing to solicit ideas and concerns from residents. The state requires any home rule charter commissions to do so within 45 days of being elected.
Five people showed up for the meeting, but the commission made it clear that any time residents have concerns about the process, they are welcome to attend. All their meetings are public.
During spring elections, Judith Dalton, the commission's chairwoman; Joseph Sergi, vice chairman; Lisa Ferolito, clerk; Doug Adams, Caroline Ahdab, Christopher DeSimone, Michael Hartnett, Peter Shattuck Sr. and Marcia A. Zaniboni were elected to the commission. For the last two weeks they have been discussing broad issues and reviewing charters from other communities.
"We are trying not to reinvent the wheel, we are going to pick parts that best suit our needs," said DeSimone.
Pepperell's governing rules and regulations are based on state laws, DeSimone said the benefit of having a home rule charter is the town gets to write it up.
"It's one heck of a selling job, if there is one paragraph people don't like, it won't pass," DeSimone said.
Though the ringing message is one of little change, the group has been discussing a few changes around a central theme of accountability. Bulking up the
Although the selectmen would still be the executive authority, DeSimone said having a "strong town administrator" is one step forward.
"Right now [the position] has no budget control or hiring and firing ability," he said.
Dalton said she supports giving the town administrator more authority to create more fiscal accountability.
Enterprise funds are a separate story, and the commission is seeking legal opinion on management of those cost centers. A town-manager position is another step up the "power ladder," but several members said they were leaning toward strong town-administrator position.
Professionalizing daily functions are important too, Sergi said. Currently, the position holds no power to do many day-to-day things without delegation or approval from boards.
How positions are filled would be dictated by a charter too and just how that is done, those appointed versus those elected, are also under review. Several positions, such as the tax collector, treasurer and clerks position are currently elected by ballot vote.
"I feel strongly about elected positions," said resident Sharon Mercurio. "We've been fortunate, but it's scary top think our town finances could be run by joe schmo."
Appointees, in theory, could be chosen by an authority based on review of qualifications. Elected positions, however, would have to have "an investment in this town," said Town Clerk Jeff Sauer.
"It is certainly clear to me cities have an appointed clerk and small towns have an elected one," he said. "The question is where are we in that dynamic, do we want someone local and invested or a hired gun?
"It's more important to have an investment this town and I don't know that that's something an appointed clerk would do."
Sergi said that with those positions, there is a salary being drawn, and he wants to be sure the charter is holding accountability across the board and providing recall procedures for those positions.
The focus, Sergi said, is on those positions and the finances, he does not for see the disbanding of any boards, but those with accountability need to be looked at.
Resident and fire engineer Milton Blood was concerned with the fate of the Board of Fire Engineers, the group which controls the Fire Department.
"With developers coming in, with an outsider perspective, they ask: whose in charge?" Sergi said.
According to Blood "there are some flaws in way it operates." He added the Board is researching the possibility of a Strong Chief, a leadership configuration which would centralize department control in the fire chief, rather than in a five-member board.
Other ideas included:
A five member Board of Selectmen, entertained by resident Phil Durno who said having two appointed members in addition to the three elected ones would help in decision making.
Cross-department sharing of equipment and personnel is something Dalton said she would want to put in the charter.
· Looking for areas where the town could use outsourcing to save money, Sergi said.