As one of five appointed members to the Charter Review Committee (Larry "Butch" McDonald, chair, Gary Fontaine, Deb Gregoire-LeFebvre, and Ken O'Brien were the others), we spent from September of 2009 until the middle of August 2010, when our final report was issued, working on reviewing and making recommendations to the existing Town Charter.
Many of the proposed changes were innocuous (changing the language so that people that home-brewed beer were not in violation) to the politically charged question of how many councilors does it take to unscrew a light bulb (in this case, remove the Town Manager from office)?
All five of us spent a lot of time talking, discussing, and compromising on a number of issues, and one thing that I've concluded:
We all wasted our time.
I'm not at all happy with the way that the recommendations were set on a shelf to gather dust for such a long period of time.
With the passing of Laurent McDonald, a terrific councilor who I respected tremendously, of course there was a delay, something to be expected. However, due to political, not practical reasons, it continued to sit.
While a Town Councilor tried to figure out how to increase his "side's" strength on the council, a conscious decision was made to not muddy the waters with some of the issues like that of the Town Manager's removal, in order to increase the number of people on that side.
Although I loved the candidate, who I don't blame in the least, I do blame the person who decided that getting someone elected was more important than getting our recommendations on the ballot.
The net-net (or net-loss) to be specific is that not only did the goal of strengthening that side not work, but more seats were lost, and the Committee's recommendations were all but forgotten.
Former Councilor Spinelli, who's subcommittee spent about two hours "reviewing" a year’s worth of work, decided that the Town Manager, regardless of who he or she is, should be harder to remove from office, despite the fact that when those who detested the current TM the most, when they had the power to remove him, didn't.
In other words, it's an unnecessary change to the Charter, if approved by the voters. But will we ever be able to even vote on it? The Legislature approved, and the Governor signed off on, legislation mandating that, finally, in 2012, the voters would be able to decide.
But our current Town Manager, Chris Clark, and the current Town Council, don't seem to get that they can't override the governor and legislature, by themselves. Just check out the current agenda and you will see how they wish to treat this issue.
They want to vote to change it to next year.
That will be nearing the fourth year since we started, with still no resolution. That is insulting, not only to those at served, but the people of Southbridge. This issue should have been concluded in early 2011, regardless of the outcome. Never in Southbridge should recommendations like these be sat upon, to the benefit of any side.
Therefore, if this hits the ballot in early 2013, at a point when interest is at an all-time low, when only those inclined to beef up the strength of the Town Manager's job, with little recourse for when a Town Manager needs to be removed, bear in mind that only four councilors can prevent the removal of the Town Manager.
Remember TM Carlisle?
This is not aimed at TM Clark, but any TM: Southbridge, do you really want to weaken and cede more power to the TM position? If so, let's just void the Town Council, since they will be reporting to the TM, not the other way around, which is the way that it is supposed to be.
I blame both Spinelli, who didn't even ask the members of the committee for their input, a responsibility he failed at by ignoring the CRC, but also the chair of the Charter Review Committee for not forcing this final vote by the people sooner.
As a result of their actions, in my opinion, all of the members wound up, in hindsight wasting their time--to move two opposite political agendas. Ironic, since it was the CRC that was accused of being political.