Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Charter Change Chicanery



Want to be taken for a ride?
Back in October, you may recall, I submitted an open meeting law complaint that resulted in the town council being required to take a formal vote on proposed amendments to the special legislation to amend the Southbridge Home Rule Charter.

At the time I expressed the view that the agenda item proposed on the October 15 town council meeting agenda was not properly formulated.

Yesterday I decided to follow up on this matter. 

I sent the following email to Senator Richard Moore:

Dear Senator Moore:

Earlier this year the House and Senate passed and the Governor signed H. 4039 through H. 4048 pertaining to a series of amendments to the Southbridge Home Rule Charter.

Each piece of legislation specified that ratification of each amendment would be determined “at a regular or special town election to be held in the year 2012”.

At a meeting of the Southbridge town council held on October 15, 2012, the council adopted a motion which read, “Vote to amend Section 2 of the special legislation for the 10 Articles adopted by the Legislature and approved by the Governor and to change the year from 2012 to 2013 in conjunction with the Town’s annual election of June 2013.”

Can the town council amend the terms of legislation adopted by the legislature and signed into law by the Governor? Wouldn’t such a change require the legislature to approve amendments to the existing laws and have those amendments signed by the Governor? Are any such amendments pending?

Looking forward to your reply, I remain

Sincerely,
 Kenneth M. O’Brien

In very short order I received the following reply:


Dear Ken,

The Legislature is in the process of amending the charter bills using the one portion that was not acted upon and redrafting it to amend all of the bills to allow for the vote of the people in 2013.  I expect this bill to pass in the next few weeks.  The town has indicated their approval of this technical change.

Senator Moore

I followed up by requesting a copy of the proposed amendments. I received a response from Shawn Collins, the Senator’s chief of staff:


Mr. O’Brien –

Senator Moore has asked that I send you a copy of the pending amendment to the Southbridge charter bills to accommodate a special election in 2013 as opposed to 2012.  

Attached is the amendment that is currently pending before the House Committee on Third Reading.  I’m not sure of their timeline for consideration.

If you have any additional questions, or require any additional information, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Shawn

The attached draft legislation is as follows:

FLOOR AMENDMENT
Mr.  Durant of Spencer moves that House No. 3900 be amended by substitution, in part, of a bill with a new title and with the following new text:
“An act making corrective changes to certain amendments to the town of Southbridge charter.
 SECTION 1.  Section 2 of chapter 264 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 2.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
 SECTION 3.  Section 2 of chapter 265 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 4.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
 SECTION 5.  Section 2 of chapter 266 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 6.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
SECTION 7.  Section 2 of chapter 267 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 8.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
SECTION 9.  Section 2 of chapter 268 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 10.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
SECTION 11.  Section 2 of chapter 269 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 12.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
 SECTION 13.  Section 2 of chapter 270 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 14.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
 SECTION 15.  Section 2 of chapter 271 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 16.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed. 
 SECTION 17. Section 2 of chapter 272 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 18.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
SECTION 19.  Section 2 of chapter 273 of the acts of 2012 is herby amended by striking out the figure “2012”, the first time it appears, and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 2013.
SECTION 20.  Section 3 of said chapter is hereby repealed.
SECTION 21.  This act shall take effect upon its passage.”              

Now it is my understanding that in matters of Home Rule legislation, a state legislator must be acting at the request of the town.

However, as I pointed out in my original criticism of the agenda item at the October 15 meeting, “Oh My God! Read agenda item 20:
20. Vote to amend Section 2 of the special legislation for the 10 Articles adopted by the Legislature and approved by the Governor and to change the year from 2012 to 2013 in conjunction with the Town’s annual election of June 2013.
Who wrote that?
The council, according to this item, is going to take it upon itself to amend state laws.
The item should read:
20. Vote to request State Representative Peter Durant to introduce legislation to amend section 2…(etc.)”

The town council, however, adopted the agenda item as originally proposed.

This raises the question “On what authority is Representative Durant acting?” The vote of the Southbridge town council did not empower him to undertake this action on behalf of the town.

Senator Moore noted, “The town has indicated their approval of this technical change.”

How has the town indicated their approval of this technical change? I have seen no subsequent action by the council elaborating upon their original vote to amend the legislation (which they had no power to do). Furthermore, the agenda item voted by the town council specifically provided that the legislation be amended to specify that the vote on the amendments be held  “…in conjunction with the Town’s annual election of June 2013.” This is not a condition embodied in the amendments introduced by Representative Durant.

Is this another “administrative action” by the town manager? If so it is an assumption of the legislative authority of the council. While the council took a vote on an illegitimate agenda item, it does not accord the town manager the authority to re-interpret it as he sees fit.

But, once again I suspect the public will care very little about the sloppy procedure of our town government, even when they were advised of how to fix the problem before they voted.

2 comments:

  1. "Who wrote that?"

    "How has the town indicated their approval of this technical change?"

    TM Clark’s (Shadow Councilor) verbally crafted the original lingo. It was also discussed and approved, @ CC’s suggestion, that he formalize/ address the issue directly with Governor Duval via postal mail.

    I suspect a simple cc: to Rep. P. Durant got the ball rolling A.S.A.P.

    Done Deal! Sound plausible?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Zotos says, once again ken displays his grasp of the
    Facts , im sick of watching clarks tricks, who drives
    The agendas? All they do is take care of themselves
    The people of southbridge cant take much more!

    ReplyDelete

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