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Charter Commission aims to establish ‘aggressive’ timeline

Date: 5/7/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – Residents could vote for a new form of government during the 2016 Annual Town Election after the Charter Commission discussed its possible timeline during its first meeting on April 30.

Charter Commission Chair Dawn Wiezbicki-Starks, who was appointed to the position during the meeting, said she would like to establish  “fairly aggressive” timeline for the commission.

Wiezbicki-Starks told the Charter Commission she is concerned about momentum for the topic and declining interest of townspeople if the timeline is prolonged.

Town Clerk Thomas Florence said the commission must submit a preliminary report that “includes the text of the charter” within 16 months after the 2015 Town Election, which took place on April 14.

The commission was established via a ballot question on the 2015 Annual Town Election by a vote of 462 to 90. The ballot question was a citizen petition by a group of residents that obtained 1,700 signatures in order to be placed on the ballot.

A decade ago, the town established a Charter Commission, which met once every two weeks and had a similar timeline to what the current commission is proposing, Wiezbicki-Starks, said.  

Three out of nine members on the current commission, Raymond Miller, Vice Chair Larry Levine, and Thomas O’Connor, served on the previous one more than a decade ago, she noted.

“I think we should certainly opt for getting it done on the short order,” Miller said. “If we can’t, then obviously we would have to continue on.”

Charter Commission member George Kingston said “basically we’re talking about 10 months” because the commission has to submit its preliminary report and the text of the charter to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office prior to the election.

“I think we can get it done,” he added. “I think we’ve got a start already from [the commission] last time. We’ve got access to every other town in the state’s charter, those that have charters, just by going on their websites. So, we can figure out the form pretty easily and then it’s down to the details.”

Florence said the commission could choose to draft a charter that establishes a mayoral form of government, one with a town manager and Select Board, or to maintain the current form of municipal government.

Currently, the town does not have a charter and utilizes established state bylaws.

Charter Commission member Eric Madison, also the chair of the Appropriations Committee, said he is concerned with the “speed of which we have to hold a first public hearing,” which is anticipated for May 28 at 7 p.m.

Kingston, also a member of the Planning Board and the town’s representative to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), said if “there is ever a need for any data,” such as demographics or economics in the town or within the region, he could work with the PVPC to make data available to the commission.

“I can say that we’re currently [at a population of] 16,000 plus a little bit and we’re projected to grow to 20,000 in the next 20 years,” he added. “So, we’re looking at 200 people per year.”

Charter Commission Clerk Russell Denver said he would like the commission to examine the town’s land usages such as open space, and business areas.

Madison said the commission would likely decide whether to engage a consultant for developing a charter at a future meeting.

Florence said the commission’s current budget is $5,000.

Joe Occuhiuti, an East Longmeadow resident who previously served on Longmeadow’s Charter Commission in 2002, said he would be willing to discuss information with the commission about how Longmeadow changed to its Select Board and town manager form of government.

“I know that you mentioned a 10-month processes is a viable choice,” he added. “The only way that would be viable is if you hire a consultant.”