Barnstable County Charter Review Committee
February 24, 2010
Committee members present: Fred Gaechter, Chair; Ronald Bergstrom; Charlotte Striebel; Teresa Martin; Mike Corgan; Sheila Lyons; Leo Cakounes; and Greg Milne
Absent: Ed Larkin
Others present: County Commissioner William Doherty; Nancy Curley, League of Women Voters; Paul Niedzwiecki; Diane C Thompson, Clerk of the Assembly; and Jennie Morey, Assistant to Assembly Clerk.
Chair Gaechter opened the meeting at 4:00 p.m.
Chair Gaechter asked for the approval of the minutes of January 13th and January 27th. The Committee approved the minutes, as written, with all voting in favor.
Chair Gaechter began the meeting by informing the Committee on details of his meeting with the Cape Cod Selectmen’s and Councilors Association. At the meeting he heard concerns about
the makeup of the Charter Review Committee with 5 elected County officials and only 4 members from the public. The people speaking thought the committee should be disbanded and re-organized. They thought the committee should be made up of all townspeople, all appointed by the Selectmen and Councilors. The County officials would only serve as liaisons. They thought that there wasn’t enough time for the committee to get the input it needed and they would likely vote against any recommended changes because of that. They thought that the Charter Review Committee needed to travel to different towns so that there would be regional input and with only 5 weeks left there wasn’t enough time for that to happen.
Some members of the Association felt that the Assembly of Delegates should be appointed by Selectmen in each town and not be elected. They said there is a lack of communication between the Assembly and the Selectmen. The Association also felt that the County should strengthen the role of the County Administrator.
Delegate Striebel pointed out the Selectmen’s lack participation with the Assembly and when they are asked to join in on discussions and assist with making decisions there is hardly any attention paid. She mentioned her involvement with the town of Yarmouth.
Greg Milne said the members of the Cape Cod Commission are appointed by the towns. If a person is appointed are they then beholden to the appointing authority?
Delegate Bergstrom stated that the Assembly of Delegates are elected and do not answer to the Selectmen. The Selectmen are considered the government for the town and there is a need to recognize that County Government is not the same form of government as the towns.
Chair Gaechter mentioned that the lack of communication was only the result of an opinion. It is apparent the constituents do not know there is an Assembly of Delegates or who their representative for their town is. That is what the Selectmen are pointing out and the unknowing public is where there is a lack of communication.
The strongest point made by the Association is that they do not agree with the make-up of the committee having a strong membership of County officials. The other strong point is whether or not the Charter Review Committee is doing their job given the time that has been allowed for the Charter review.
Commissioner Lyons stated that there were not a lot of Selectmen at that meeting in favor of the Assembly of Delegates. This may stem from constituents not knowing the Assembly exists, what their job is, and who their representative is. The Selectmen said that even if you wanted to do away with the Assembly of Delegates or make changes to them this should be done through the Selectmen.
The Selectmen were concerned with the process in which the Charter Review Committee was appointed. The make-up of the Committee should have been without County officials deciding their own fate.
Chair Gaechter was asked how many people were actually vocal at the Selectmen & Councilors meeting.
Chair Gaechter answered three people.
Mr. Corgan suggested that since the Selectmen clearly do not like the Charter Review Committee the solution may be to disband the committee. A motion was made to do so but there was no second. Therefore, the motion did not go forward.
Mr. Corgan stated that the same people suggesting changes should be made should attend the committees meetings. The members of the Association have never been to any of the Charter Review Committee meetings since the beginning. The problem he thought with the Selectmen was the appointing authority. That is where the power comes from and this group of Selectmen do not like the fact that they do not have any authority to tell the County what to do. The members of the Association have every right to state their opinion. The Selectmen should have more interaction with the County.
Chair Gaechter mentioned that even though a small number of members of the Association spoke to their concerns there were a lot of heads in the audience acknowledging their statements.
Commissioner Doherty spoke about when the County had the referendum in 2000, 75% of the people on Cape Cod voted to support County government and the Home Rule Charter. You have to stand by what the people have said.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said the structure of the Assembly is confusing and he asked if it is needed. Who do the Delegates represent; the towns, the percent of people in each town or even individually?
Mr. Niedzwiecki stated that the bigger point made by the Association was that the Committee was not given enough time to do their review of the Charter. The Committee needs to have public hearings, go out to the people, and solicit public input. There were no members of the Cape Cod Commission on the 21st Century Task Force. The Commission holds public hearings throughout the Cape that takes a lot of time. You need to produce the document and then go out to sell.
Delegate Cakounes noted that the Speaker sent out letters to Selectmen, the Councilors, and Town Administrators. All meetings are posted, given to each town, and follow the Open Meeting Laws. The Speaker has done due diligence in getting the information out to officials and the public.
Delegate Striebel added that all these Committee meetings are posted and if the Selectmen wanted to come there are 75 seats in the Assembly Chambers. The Selectmen have had quite a bit of opportunity to participate.
Delegate Cakounes does not want to see the Committee disbanded and this covers the make-up of the Committee. If what the Committee decides to recommend ruffles the Selectmen then it is good for them and it will get them excited about County government. He said he has a lot of participation with his Board of Selectmen.
Chair Gaechter suggested that the Committee send a letter of thanks to the Association.
Commissioner Lyons suggested that the Committee take the time they have left and write a workable process. The Assembly of Delegates do not want their power taken away in Committee recommendations but if the Committee defines a process, chooses the make-up of the Committee, has a public hearing on the Committee’s recommendations, and then gives their final report to the Assembly it may be a plus for the ongoing Charter Review.
Mr. Milne is a member of the Executive Committee for the Association. The Association has difficulty with the structure and the Charter reform has to be ratified. The Selectmen find frustration with what the Committee may recommend and they are convinced that the Assembly of Delegates will do whatever to protect the Assembly’s desire not to see a direct recommendation going to voters. This Charter violates the Home Rule and you cannot have this insider government decide its own fate. The Association also has a problem with the weighted vote and the number of members of the County Commissioners.
Speaker Bergstrom suggested amending the Charter to address some of the concerns about the committee makeup. Even if the Committee recommends a change of the Committee you still need to be working under the existing Charter.
Commissioner Lyons again stated that these issues should be brought to the public before the Committee brings recommendations to the Assembly of Delegates. The public could be shown recommendations of changes, then the Committee could re-establish the new Charter and the make-up of the new Charter Committee. This could then go to the voters.
The Committee has the month of March to come up with changes to the process of the Charter review. There may be some public input at the Assembly of Delegates public hearing.
Speaker Bergstrom stated that in all this talk no one has moved to change the process. The Committee has certain items in front of them and needs to make decisions.
If the Committee really wanted to go to the public the Committee could contact the media, go to the public, and go to different towns at a later time in the evening.
Delegate Cakounes stated that there is enough people that know what is going on. The Committee is doing enough of due diligence.
Delegate Martin pointed out that there are other ways to get public input. She has looked at what other Counties have done to excite the public. There are very creative ways that others have used. The committee talked about using the County’s web page and making it interactive, but that hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.
Commissioner Lyons stated that on regionalization there is a place for regional government. This is a chance for the committee to do restructuring. Cape towns are faced with may large issues and need County Government now more than ever.
Chair Gaechter had a preference to expand the Committees time not only to just resolve one issue and go to the Assembly but also to go to the Assembly to extend the time in order to resolve more issues.
Mr. Milne said to make fundamental changes to the Charter you will need to go to the legislature. To make major changes it will need to be voted.
Delegate Cakounes understands that to bring forward any recommendations to change the Charter you will be looking at the 2012 election. Any major changes cannot be done at this time.
Ms. Thompson explained that there are ways to expand upon the Charter process and committee makeup without changing the Charter. She explained what was done by the 2005 Charter Review Committee when it expanded upon the budget process. This was done by ordinance. The committee could write basic changes to expand on how the review of the Charter is done by ordinance as well.
Chair Gaechter would like to go to the Assembly with ways the Committee is going to move forward and to point out the lack of time this Committee has had. The Committee should also tell the Assembly what the process will be and how this Committee is going to do that.
Speaker Bergstrom noted that the if the Committee was formed in January 2010 and you have to go to vote, you only have 4 months which is structurally impossible. The Committee is behind the curve and won’t get done what they originally wanted to. The Committee should prepare a resolution, be re-appointed in 2010 with a new timeframe, and complete a preliminary report. Then they could go out to the public for the next election in 2012.
Commissioner Lyons agreed that this would give the Committee a chance to get out to the public and receive recommendations to add to the report to the Assembly of Delegates. It is apparent that no one on the Committee has their own agenda. This is also true throughout the County.
Speaker Bergstrom made a Motion to petition the Assembly of Delegates to reappoint the current members of the Charter Committee in 2010 to be done by May 2011 as long as it is consistent with the Charter. This would extend the timeframe of 150 days back from the election of 2012.
Mr. Corgan seconded the Motion.
Commissioner Lyons suggested disbanding the Committee and re-appointing the Committee having the timeframe until April of 2012.
The original motion was withdrawn by Speaker Bergstrom and a new motion stated that the committee would submit a Resolution to the Assembly of Delegates requesting that it extend the timeframe of the Charter Review Committee as currently constituted to December 31, 2011. This allows the Assembly of Delegates time to review their recommendations and proceed, if necessary, to have legislative changes.
Ms. Thompson will draft the resolution to the Assembly of Delegates and forward the resolution to Speaker Bergstrom and Chair Gaechter for approval. The proposed resolution will be submitted at the Assembly of Delegates regular meeting on March 3rd. The vote on the resolution will tentatively on March 17th. This resolution will be a part of the Charter Committee’s report of recommendations.
Mr. Corgan asked that the section regarding Personnel in the Charter be removed. He will be sending this recommendation to Diane for her input and assistance in doing so.
Mr. Milne stated that the Committee needs to decide whether or not to tackle the suggestion to remove the Assembly of Delegates from the Charter Review. The first phase should be to clean up the document and that is why he presented the Committee with information regarding Michael Curran Attorney and Counselor at Law from him. The information is considered a part of these minutes.
Delegate Martin said that the Committee should separate concerns and extraneous issues so the Committee can move forward on the major issues.
Ms. Thompson asked the committee to look at the difficulty of amending the Home Rule Charter that would remove the Assembly of Delegates from the approval process for changes. She said to the best of her knowledge all changes would have to be done through the Home Rule Charter and that includes the Assembly. If legislation is filed and there is disagreement it is unlikely that it would be favorably dealt with in the Legislature. She said that has been her experience and she referred to the conflict with the Sheriff and past legislation.
Delegate Striebel asked what is broken with the current structure that cannot be fixed.
Ms. Thompson also asked that the committee look at changes recommended in 2005 by the previous Charter Review Committee. In addition to substantive comments and recommendations there were some housekeeping issues that could be dealt with, perhaps, by this committee in its first recommendation to the Assembly. She said she would pull out the changes from the report and give them to the Committee.
Ms. Thompson asked that the Committee if it would change its meeting days from Wednesday to Mondays or some other day due to the upcoming review of the County Budget by the Assembly of Delegates. The Assembly Standing Committees will be scheduling their budget reviews on Wednesdays beginning March 17th through April.
Chair Gaechter set the next meeting of the Charter Review Committee on Monday, March 1st at 4:00 p.m.
The agenda is going to have the Business Roundtable and the League of Women Voters address the Committee. It will also include discussion of the County Counsel responses and recommendations to the Assembly. The Resolution will be reviewed at that time as well.
The meeting adjourned at 5:24 p.m.
At the Committee meeting on March 10, 2010 these minutes were approved with all in favor.