PLYMOUTH — The Charter Commission moved forward with its work during its last meeting, but not before taking a step back to revisit the process leading to the 6-3 vote it previously took March 7 to preserve Town Meeting in some form as commission members explore widespread changes to the charter.
More:Charter Commission votes to keep, improve Town Meeting while exploring other changes
“As I think everyone knows by now, this entire process of allowing a town to draft its own charter is governed by Massachusetts state law,” Charter Commission Chairman Bill Abbott said. “Every aspect of the process is covered.”
That, he added, includes everything from the initial passage of the town wide vote calling for a charter commission, how the commission is to operate, mandatory hearings, deadlines for filing preliminary drafts and final reports before getting it on the ballot.
Abbott and other commission members who were in the majority of the last votes taken said they had received criticism, either through emails or on social media, for not pursuing a town council – or in some cases, mayor – or voting in favor of presenting a choice to residents next year of at least meeting versus council.
“I did not vote for two or three forms of government to be on the ballot,” member Betsy Hall said. “That would send a message that all forms of local government are equal, and I do not believe that.”
The 30 or so other Massachusetts charters the commission reviewed, along with the numerous town and city officials the commission has heard from over the last 10 months bolstered Hall’s opinion.
“At this time, there is no town or city which has a town council that is in better shape than the town of Plymouth,” Hall said.
Candidates who ran for the nine open seats last year had done so in slates – grouped candidates who support a council, mayor or representative town meeting.
The candidates made their personal preference known going into the election. The 12 percent of registered voters who cast their ballots elected the six members supporting town meeting and the three supporting a council, effectively taking the mayoral option off the table.
More:Plymouth Charter Commission candidate statements
“There is no mystery where they stood on the various forms of local government, whether it may be mayor or council form with no town meeting or town meeting with a strong town manager and a select board,” Abbott said. “Elections do have consequences. Nevertheless, all nine newly elected commissioners vowed they would have an open mind with everything, and everything is on the table.”
Upcoming dates for the Charter Commission
A nonbinding ballot question appearing on this year’s May 21 ballot will ask voters to select their preference among a town council, town meeting or mayoral form of Plymouth’s government.
By the time of the election, the commission hopes to already be working with attorneys drafting language of changes to the charter to meet its September deadline of issuing a preliminary report to the Select Board.
If turnout remains low in 2023, it is likely the same 12 percent of voters who elected a pro-town meeting majority last year would also be the ones to voice their opinions on the ballot question. Should the ballot question show a preference other than town meeting, though, that could affect the level of support for what the commission proposes next year.
Select Board Vice Chairman Betty Cavacco introduced the question, which gained majority support of her board. She said she does not see the ballot question results as representing a mandate to the commission.
In defending the move, Cavacco said former longtime Plymouth town clerk and current commission member Larry Pizer had called for and supported such a question.
That came as news to Pizer.
“I did not support it. I do not support it, and I’m surprised there is a suggest at any anytime that I would,” he said.
He said Select Board members would have no reason to think otherwise.
“I had actually spoken to the Select Board stating my opposition before they had actually passed it,” he added.
The commission will meet again in person April 4. Members are expected to discuss possible changes in the makeup and role of the advisory and finance committee, with an eye toward expanding it to include several town meeting representatives.
Following its preliminary September report, the commission will submit a final draft to the Select Board this November.
Abbott said despite the early votes, the final set of proposals still remain to be seen. He noted as an example that the town’s advisory Committee of Precinct Chairs could end up as the Council of Precinct Chairs with expanded powers such as enforcement of charter violations.
“These votes were not the end all and be all. Anyone can make a motion at any time which could have the effect rescinding an earlier vote,” Abbott said. “We’re working on a charter in progress, and we may be in one direction only to zig in another. It’s not possible to describe the evolutionary path we’ll be taking to get to the final product next fall.”