As a relatively new resident of Charlestown, I decided I would attend the Charlestown Town Council meetings to get a better idea of how my town operates. I would like to share my reactions to one particular issue from the agenda.
The Charlestown Town Ordinances require that a Charter Revision Advisory Committee meet at least once a year. In fact, that committee last met in 2012. The council explained that by saying there was no interest expressed for charter changes. The ordinance does not list that reason as an exception to the requirement. The council did not address this. In fact, there was no public notification soliciting requests for such changes and, I suspect, most residents did not even know of the requirement for an annual meeting or that a mechanism for charter change even existed.
When these facts became more known, at least three citizens applied to join such a committee. That was in February 2018. Nothing was done with those applications by the Town Council or the town administration. Subsequently, four additional applications were submitted so that the council apparently was finally forced to put the issue on this month’s agenda, fully three months after the first applications were submitted. When questioned as to why there was such a delay, the acting president of the council could not suggest any reasons and, in fact, became curt with the citizen who was trying to understand why it had occurred. The president finally said something to the effect of that is just the way it is and told the citizen to get to her point. So much for an open and constituent-friendly council interaction with Charlestown citizens.
The ordinance allows for three to seven members of the Charter Revision Advisory Committee. As noted, seven citizens applied to join the committee. Yet the council moved to appoint only three members. While one would expect that the most qualified people would be appointed to any committee involved in governing the town, they admitted they had no criteria for selecting the three members they did and had not even spoken with most, and perhaps any, of the applicants. The council did not try to explain this.
At a time when government experts bemoan the lack of citizen interest in the functioning of their government, would it not be appropriate and desirable to allow as many citizens to take part in their government as possible? The council did not address this.
For a town council, especially one that ran on the promise to make government open and responsive to all citizens of Charlestown, would it not be appropriate to involve as many different opinions and perspectives in governing decisions as possible? The council did not address this.
What the council eventually said was that three members were sufficient and efficient and having more members would open up the discussions to extraneous and unnecessary issues. If that is so, I would ask when the council will move to reduce its membership from its current five members to three and to do the same for all other bodies, committees, and commissions. Perhaps I should not put that idea in their minds.
As a new resident, I think it may be time for those with new voices and thoughts to be elected to the Town Council.
Dr. Kenneth M. RobbinsCharlestown