Voters reject mix of branches of government

On Saturday, voters rejected proposed changes to the Advisory Committee’s bylaws. The main point of friction was the blurred lines between two branches of city government.

The comments highlighted a gulf between the way some officials and voters perceive the relationship between the committee and the city administration.

The plan before the city meeting was essentially to codify and expand a situation that already exists on an “ad hoc” basis. It is the overlapping relationship between two committees that review city finances and items from city meetings.

The action of the town hall is now putting pressure on the selectors and the council to determine how to proceed before the next town hall. * (This should take place this fall. A special meeting is scheduled, but no date has been announced yet.)

In 2020, the Selectmen Board of Directors appointed an ad hoc Capital Planning Committee to focus on the City’s capital spending pipeline. He was responsible for “developing strategies to move these projects forward for approval in a financially responsible manner”.

Since April of last year, the committee has been working closely with Advisory. For most of this time, three residents sat on both committees simultaneously. (That’s actually two more than what the proposed items would have allowed.)

Selectmen was so impressed with Capital’s work to reduce city spending that they supported its transformation into a standing committee.

Clause 33 was intended to create the Capital Improvement and Planning Committee with a similar but more detailed charge. Like Advisory, he would report and advise the town meeting. Unlike Advisory, he would continue to be appointed by elected officials who would also oversee the city services with which the committee would work closely.

To enable this, Advisory first sought to modify the rules prohibiting sitting on a standing committee unless appointed by the moderator (who appoints members to Advisory). As a compromise, the proposed CPIC rules would only allow one member of the Advisory Board.

Advisory committee chair Kathy Cook presented on section 32 for her committee. (Previously, she served on both committees, but recently left Capital.) She asked to reduce the number of members to nine from seven. She maintained that the committee had been at seven for some time now and that it was functioning well that way. She noted that when there are more, it leads to absences.

As for allowing advisory members to sit on “a committee to review capital appropriations,” she explained that the work of the two committees was consistent and that collaboration made sense.

Most of the criticism of the rule change has focused on the intended role of Advisory, working for Town Meeting voters as independent oversight over selectmen and other city officials / departments.

Resident Karen Shimkus told voters the change would be a gross violation of statehood. ** This was refuted by the town lawyer. Revisiting the microphone, Shimkus pointed out that the overlap creates a conflict of interest.

Shimkus noted that Advisory (which is the city’s finance committee) has posted the “finance committee role” of the Mass Municipal Association’s finance committee on its website. She quoted:

Without independent scrutiny from the finance committee, the city assembly would be severely handicapped in voting on financial matters when all recommendations come from one source. The separation of powers was designed by our founding fathers for a reason:Defend it

Resident Whitney Beals asked why moderator Paul Cimino refuse to seat 9 members as written in the regulations. Cimino argued that the composition and quality of committee members is the most important standard. He claimed that the vacancies were due to the fact that it was difficult to find volunteers to do the “grueling work”.

Beals asked if the membership was reduced to seven, which would prevent Cimino from seating only five. He argued that it would be too small a group. Cimino agreed with the latter point but did not respond directly to the first.

Freddie Gillespie (who sits on several city committees) urged voters to reject the change. Clinging to the “grueling job,” she felt the change would make it harder to find volunteers.

Others have championed the plan, saying Advisory members provide important background knowledge and invaluable insight to the committee.

Former advisory member Al Hamilton sided with critics but felt Advisory could play a role advisory role. Drawing attention to the city’s meeting as a legislative branch, he cautioned against mixing with executive power. Hamilton originally proposed to make an amendment that would modify the proposed article to allow Advisory to play a non-voting role on CPIC.

After another voter proposed to postpone the article indefinitely, Hamilton withdrew his motion.

Voters decided 76-52 to eliminate the advisory article. Selectmen quickly urged voters to do the same with section 33 to create the CPIC.

Asked whether removing Article 33 meant the Capital Committee would remain ad hoc, Selectman Marty Healey said the Council would have to decide.

According to the city’s website, the terms of the Capital Committee members will all expire on June 30. The Committee’s charge does not specify an end date (although it did specify a deadline to report to some before December 31, 2020).

* This is one of at least three town reunion outcomes that the Selectmen will have to grapple with. They will also have to respond to a successful non-binding citizens’ petition (Article 39) which asks the Council to study the prosecution of a truck exclusion on Flagg Road. (This went by an overwhelming majority.) And a failed citizen’s petition article raised many voters’ voices calling on selectmen to work on a better version to tackle the same problem – the implementation. a noise regulation. (I’ll cover this in another article later this week.)

** Shimkus was a supporter of a 2019 citizens’ petition to make his own changes to Advisory’s bylaws. You can read this proposal, which also failed, here.

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