Opening the town charter; Tempers flare over commission proposal

By Ed Harris
A proposal before the Town Council to establish a new charter revision commission became contentious Monday night, as the Democrat minority accused the Republicans of being secretive and already having a determined agenda.
The discussion on the commission was brief, but at one point during the debate Town Council Chairman John Dobbins, a Republican and Democrat John Barry, a former chairman himself, became heated with a lot of crosstalk and Barry accusing Dobbins of misrepresenting how the last charter revision commission, in 2008, came about.
“We have some concerns,” said minority leader Chris Palmieri. “We don’t take it lightly that it [the charter] is opened. It’s opening Pandora’s box.”
Though he declined to go on record during the meeting on why he wanted the establishment of a new commission, Dobbins did open up more when questioned before the council entered into executive session at the end of the meeting.
Dobbins said that he wanted the new commission, should it be formed, to primarily focus on the public safety boards, more specifically the Boards of Police and Fire Commissioners. Dobbins said this could help the town’s operational efficiencies and also save money.
“Look at the budget,” Dobbins said of the two commissions, stating that they were the largest on the town’s side.
Dobbins said that he would like to have the two commissions act as more as advisory boards that reported directly to the town manager.
“I want them to look at that and focus on that primarily,” Dobbins said.
The last charter revision commission, established in 2008, was also a tumultuous affair. Established by a grassroots petition, the group worked for more than a year in a somewhat adversarial position with the Town Council. Four out of the five charter questions passed on the Nov. 2010 ballot.
The proposal for the new commission was tabled Monday night, following a brief, but heated discussion. The Council will pick up the discussion at its next meeting on Monday, March 25.
At this meeting, the Council is expected to name the five members of the commission, which will consist of three Republicans and two Democrats. Dobbins alluded that he would like to see possible changes up for a vote on the ballot in November.
“The planning is still in the process,” Dobbins said.

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