Sunday, April 10, 2016
Dear Charter Commission
Dear Charter Commission Members,
I am writing to encourage you all to cast a vote of support for asking Town Meeting to fund a consultant to the charter commission process and to bring such a request forward at the Spring Annual Town Meeting, rather than waiting till Fall Special Town Meeting.
I understand that during the lead up to the election, there was considerable controversy in the community about the need for a Charter Commission. The election, though, is now past. The voters of the Town have weighed in, and a Commission has been established.
It is time now to dive into the work in as thorough, above board and comprehensive a way as possible. Procuring a reliable funding stream for expertise to help guide that process seems entirely prudent, as does doing so from the outset of the process rather than somewhere down the road.
I have responded, below, to some of the specific objections I have heard related to those viewpoints.
"It is too early in the process. Postponing the use of a consultant will engender a spirit of trust and good will in the Commission Members themselves."
If it is good practice to hire outside expertise to guide a charter review process, which a quick Google search seems to indicate is the case, then the Commission should be engaging in that good practice from the get go.
That is what will ultimately engender trust—researching, establishing and carrying out the best possible practices for working together on behalf of and in collaboration with the community.
Efficiencies gained through the availability of consultancy support will free Commission members for the important work of purposeful deliberation and outreach. These are the tasks that I think we want most to entrust in you, our elected representatives, not the more menial legwork and clerical aspects of the process.
"The Town employs too many consultants. We should be able to do this work with expertise already on the Commission or in the broader community."
It is true that the Town hires many consultants. But is this the area to begin skimping on that kind of investment? We are not just talking about where we should park our cars or whether to put in a round about or traffic signal. We’re talking about considering fundamental changes to the way in which we choose to govern ourselves. Surely this rises to a level of importance that merits the seeking of outside support.
"It is expensive."
The costs associated with establishing a Charter Commission, including financial costs, were one of the often-touted reasons for suggesting a No vote on the petition article. And yet, the measure passed by a significant margin. The voters knew the ramifications of what they were voting for or against. As did the Charter Commission candidates.
Mr. Weiss, in explaining why he didn’t sign the charter petition, had this to say: “It’s costly in terms of people’s time; staff time (they must attend every meeting; prepare ballots, count signatures, ensure transparency); town money (the town must pay all costs including hiring a consultant as was done for the last Charter Commission)…”
Doesn’t it seem a bit disingenuous to state ahead of time that the town would have to spend money on a charter consultant if a Commission were established and then get voted onto that very same Commission and vote to deny or delay said money?
"Town Meeting might vote down the request."
This is true. But not before having the opportunity to give full consideration to the merits of the proposal as well as to offer amendments from the floor if so desired (including amendments to the amount of the appropriation). Why not trust in that process? And, even if the measure should fail this spring, wouldn’t it be possible to bring it back in the fall, anyway?
"The Charter issue is too divisive and funding a consultant to the process would just add to the divisiveness."
As Charter Commission members you have an opportunity to combat the spirit of divisiveness rather than feeding it. A unanimous vote in favor of funding a consultant to the charter process—to ensure a thorough and efficient vetting of the options available to us as a Town, as well as the range of viewpoints within the Town—would go a long way in setting the stage for a spirit of constructive dialog and deliberation as opposed to division. Lets get off on the right track!
I don’t know, exactly, where I hope the Charter Commission process leads, in terms of specific recommendations for change or modification of our current form of government.
I do know, though, that my hope is for the process to be one that is as open, honest and constructively thorough as possible. Hiring a consultant to help guide and support this complex and vitally important process seems to me to be an idea based not only in common practice, but also in common sense.
I urge your support.
Thank you so much for taking my input into consideration and for your willingness to assume such a far-reaching and important task on behalf of the community.