TOWNSEND -- The Charter Committee has, for all intents and purposes, been disbanded following a presentation to the Board of Selectmen on their findings after a year-long review of the town charter. On Dec. 18, the committee presented the selectmen with 33 pages of noted revisions to the charter, largely framing typographical errors, phrasing clarifications and language inconsistencies "without making any changes to meaning, intent or content," said committee Chairwoman Julie Johnson. To change the intent of the charter would require to formation of a Charter Commission by the Board of Selectmen.
"They would have the authority to recommend changes; ours is simply a review process," said Johnson.
The selectmen will determine if they feel it's necessary to form a commission. If they decide to forgo the formation of a commission, the next step is to hold public hearings and post announcements for the townspeople to give input on the corrected version handed over by the committee. Next, a warrant article will be formed to be put before spring Town Meeting. Town Administrator Andy Sheehan said the board will be working over the next month to get a timeline in place for public hearings. Because of the fact that the changes didn't alter the intent of the charter, Sheehan said he doesn't expect the matter to be highly controversial.
The nine-member committee was formed and began convening monthly in September 2011 to review the charter. According to Sheehan, it is required by the state that the charter be reviewed at least once every ten years. This is the first time the charter has been reviewed since it was established in 1999.
"We were about 12 years in when we started the process, so we're a little tardy," said Sheehan.
The charter lays out who will form the committee; each member is recommended by a different town department or committee. Johnson, for instance, was recommended by the Planning Board, on which she also serves. Other members of the committee included Town Clerk Sue Funaiole, Town Moderator Gene Rauhala and Selectman Nick Thalheimer. The committee was given access to town council, who laid out the distinction between substantial and non-substantial changes. The committee spent the next year carefully combing through over 30 pages, line by line. In the first phase, they corrected all typos. They proceeded to go through the charter three more times, streamlining the vocabulary and making it more understandable for citizens.
"It was basically just housekeeping. It was a nice way to make sure we corrected all the errors there and make it more readable and cohesive," said Johnson.
By the end, the committee had five versions of the charter, keeping carefully within the tight parameters the town council had laid out for them.
"There are a lot of steps that have to be carefully followed," said Johnson.
The group also suggested an appendix to make future updates easier.
"Things have changed in the past 10 years. There are lesser known groups that function within the town," said Johnson.
Aside from the fact that the state mandates a review of the charter every decade, the editing was necessary due to a mistake made back when the charter was first voted upon. When the draft was first presented at Town Meeting over a decade ago, the first draft containing various typographical errors had been submitted for a vote, as opposed to the final draft.
"What was supposed to be the final draft didn't get sent to the printers," said Sheehan. "That was something I only heard about that as Charter Committee was beginning its work."
"Something that gets accepted at Town Meeting is accepted verbatim, with or without mistakes or typos," said Johnson.
Still, even with the typos, the draft that had been accepted had gone through a review process and had been approved at the state level.
"So it obviously complied with everything the state required," said Johnson.