GROTON — The newly formed Charter Review Committee held the first of three public hearings, attended by about a dozen town officials and a few private citizens.
The light turnout did not phase committee members, however, as chairman Michael Manugian launched into an introduction detailing the group’s mission and the process by which suggestions for changes in the town’s charter could be made.
The committee had a false start last year when the Board of Selectmen jumped the gun somewhat in establishing it ahead of when the charter stated it could be done.
Current member of the CRC, Scott Harker, pointed out the gaff at a Nov. 17, 2014, meeting of the Finance Committee, which at the time, had been scheduled to name its representatives on the committee.
Harker brought up the fact that wording in the charter indicated that although a review committee could be appointed before spring town meeting, its work could only begin afterward with recommendations for the following year.
Faced with the obvious fact, the FinCom delayed its appointment and sent the issue back to selectmen for review. In the end, selectmen decided to hold off appointing the committee until the spring of 2015.
Duly appointed, the CRC was charged with reviewing the charter and reporting its recommendations to the spring town meeting concerning any proposed amendments that members felt were reasonable or necessary
With the end of his presentation, Manugian invited those in attendance to offer suggestions for changes in the charter that might be considered.
However, to be officially considered, any suggestions for changes had to be submitted using a formal process involving a “Charter Review Change Submission Form,” warned the chairman.
Among those in attendance was former School Committee member Berta Erickson who urged committee members to keep “checks and balances” in mind when considering changes to the charter.
In particular, Erickson expressed concern about the relationship between the FinCom and the administration suggesting that Finance Committee members (as well as those of the Personnel Board) might be elected instead of being appointed by the selectmen to insure more independence.
Erickson’s concerns were echoed by FinCom member Robert Hargraves who was friendly toward the idea of an elected FinCom, which should also be allowed more input in the budget formulation process in particular contract negotiations.
Hargraves suggested that the committee meet with the FinCom to discuss such changes.
Resident Marlena Gilbert suggested another balance of expenditures between the schools and the town.
Gilbert suggested that more detailed explanations about why the two are not more equal need to be offered at town meeting when the budgets for both are being considered.
Resident Connie Sartini said the Board of Selectmen should have a greater say in setting the tone in the budget formulation process.
With the issues raised at the hearing, the CRC will have something to work with as members prepare to receive them and others through the formal submission process.
Deadline for submission of suggested changes using the Charter Review Change Submission Form is Sept. 18 and can be made either in writing or via email.
The town charter was approved by residents in 2010, and among other things, transformed Groton government into a town manager system.