The Norton Charter Review Committee is preparing to submit three separate articles for the October Town Meeting. One article seeks to implement some long overdue and badly needed changes to the two-decade old charter. The other two seek to change some elected positions to appointed ones.
One of those two looks to change the currently elected position of Town Clerk to an appointed one, a move the townspeople rejected by a razor-thin margin at the ballot box just a couple years ago. The other would expand the current Board of Water/Sewer Commissioners from three to five members, and at the same time change them from elected to appointed.
The basic changes to the charter should be reasonably non-controversial. They need to be done, and in fact should have been done many years ago. But the townspeople defeated a very similar proposal back then primarily because two other changes presented with it to change elected offices to appointed dragged it down. Apparently that potential political lesson has not impressed the current charter committee.
Of course, this is a different political time and climate. The recent approval of the school override is a sign of that. The committee has spent considerable effort evaluating their plan, and they represent a broad spectrum of the community. Their approach may well be the right one. But personally, I don't think so.
The changing of the clerk position to appointed is something that should be done. That should be a hired position, there really is no logical reason to keep it elected. But there remains a belief among many that eliminating elected positions is a bad thing, and that belief should not be disrespected or the political influence of it underestimated. Doing it this way, so soon after the voters turned it down, is just not the smart way to go. It would be better to bring it up as a separate change at a later date.
The Water/Sewer Board simply no longer serves a purpose and should be eliminated. That has nothing to do with those currently serving, and everything to do with simplifying the town's organizational chart and making the department more efficient. The Water/Sewer Superintendent should report directly to the town manager just like the police and fire chiefs do. Taking an obsolete board and expanding it is logic that escapes me and will not solve the real problems of the department.
But the vast majority of changes contained in the main article are crucial and necessary. It might have been a better idea to get them done, and bring up the rest later. The Charter Review Committee is betting the possibly controversial nature of the other articles will not affect the chances of the main article passing. Let's hope they are right.
Either way, the debate on these articles is sure to liven up what might otherwise have been an awfully boring October Town Meeting.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime advocate of revising the Town Charter. He can be reached at email@example.com.