TOWNSEND — A dedicated group of volunteers has been meeting monthly since September to review the town’s charter.
The charter in use was approved in 1999. Before then, everything voted on at town meeting had to be approved by the attorney general’s office, member Mary Jane Kruger said. Once the charter was approved, only certain things needed to be approved at the state level.
Kruger is the only member of the present review committee who worked on developing the original document. All of the other members of the Charter Review Committee were appointed or suggested by town departments and are presently active in town government.
The Council on Aging selected Kruger. The Town Moderator, Gene Rauhala, selected John Barrett, a Cemetery and Parks Commissioner, Susan Funaiole, the town clerk and Kathleen Spofford, assistant town clerk. The Board of Library Trustees selected member Cheryl Cloutier. The Finance Committee selected Rauhala and member Carolyn Sellars. The Planning Board selected associate member Julie Johnson, and the selectmen chose fellow selectman Nick Thalheimer.
The committee’s purpose is to identify areas in the charter that need clarification or change and to present this information to the Board of Selectmen, Rauhala said.
He identified at six categories of change the committee should examine. The first five involve typos, errors or omissions — what he identified as “Monty Python silly things.” They do not change the meaning or intent of the original document.
The proposed changes will improve readability, Johnson, chairman of the committee, said.
“The choice of words does make a difference, for example, if town meeting is dissolved or continued,” Rauhala said.
The committee should look at the document for the following problems, he said:
* Typographical errors;
* Word and punctuation changes needed for consistency;
* Actual mistakes such as missing words;
* Amendments so that lists and titles used by the town and by the charter are the same;
* Identifying and removing transitional provisions in the original document that are no longer needed.
Changes in these areas would not affect the intent of the document. After these “mechanical changes” are accepted by the selectmen, the proposed changes require a two-thirds vote in favor at town meeting and then approval at the annual town election, Rauhala said.
The final category the committee should report on to the selectmen is what he identified as desirable changes. A change to the number of selectmen or changing who is responsible for hiring within the town departments could be included in this category. These types of changes require a revision of the charter and must go through more steps before being approved.
After the selectmen receive the review the committee’s report, they need to appoint a committee to make revisions, hold a special hearing, get two-thirds approval at town meeting and place the proposed revision on the annual town election warrant.
The committee decided to meet on Feb. 1 to begin making the corrections to improve readability and accuracy, leaving suggestions on actual revisions to the charter for a later date.
“We are going to tackle Gene’s list of one through five, all necessary changes,” Johnson said.
The three lawyers on the committee, Rauhala, Barrett and Thalheimer, will review the changes before sending them on to the selectmen, Rauhala said.
The committee also plans on presenting reports at town meeting to keep voters informed.
“We’ll do a small report in May and try to complete it by the fall,” Funaiole said.