By Betsey Anderson, Town Moderator and Chair of the Charter Review Committee
At the Annual Town Election on March 14th, Bedford’s voters will be asked to approve four questions that will amend the Town’s Charter. The questions refer to articles that were approved at the November 6, 2014 Special Town Meeting and subsequently approved by the Attorney General. Voter approval at a local election is the final step in this Charter amendment process.
Bedford’s Town Charter requires that the Selectmen appoint a committee every five years to review the working of Town government and recommend Charter revisions and amendments considered advisable.
The Charter Review Committee began its work in April of 2014. At its ten open meetings, the committee reviewed the Town Charter, requested and reviewed amendment recommendations from all town boards, committees and the public, and concluded its work with a Selectmen’s public hearing October 6, 2014.
To become effective, Charter amendments must first be accepted by 2/3 of the voters at a Town Meeting, then pass the Attorney General’s review for consistency with the state constitution and laws, and finally win voter approval on the ballot at a town election. The four questions on the ballot refer to the Articles passed at the Special Town Meeting.
The Charter amendments fall into 3 categories:
- Wording and paragraph structure changes to improve clarity but do not alter the meaning from the current Charter language
- Changes to meaning so that the Charter reflects current practices
- Substantive changes:
- The first question on the ballot, which refers to Town Meeting Article 6, miscellaneous charter amendments, includes the first 2 categories – minor changes for clarity and those that reflect current practices. Ballot questions 2-4 refer to Town Meeting Articles 7, 8, and 9. Each set out a substantive change.
- Proposed amendments in Article 6 include simplification and clarification of language. In addition the Finance Committee is given authority to make exceptions to the timing of budget submittals reflecting current practice. The positions of Fence Viewer, Measurers of Wood and Manure, and Town Manager are removed from the list of offices appointed by the Selectmen. The appointment of the Town Manager is addressed elsewhere in the Charter. The amendments also address the requirement that town officers must be sworn in before assuming their duties and clarify certain exceptions to the current requirement that a majority of the membership of a board or committee is required to pass a motion.
- The proposed amendment in Article 7 creates the position of Deputy Moderator. The Deputy Moderator will be appointed by the Moderator with Town Meeting approval and will serve in the case of the Moderator’s absence or disability with all of the powers of the Moderator when presiding at Town Meeting sessions. In the absence of both the Moderator and the Deputy Moderator, the Town Meeting would elect a temporary moderator.
- The proposed amendment in Article 8 would increase the membership of the Volunteer Coordinating Committee by two members to a total of five members.
- The proposed amendment in Article 9 extends the time in which the Volunteer Coordinating Committee must make recommendations of candidates from 30 to 60 days following a request. It also clarifies that the committee does not need to make recommendations when an incumbent wishes to be reappointed nor for appointees of elected and appointed boards other than the Selectmen.
The Charter Review Committee urges your approval of each of the four ballot questions in this final step of the Town Charter amendment process.
More detail on each of the questions is included on the ballot for the election. A sample ballot which contains the ballot questions and lists candidates for election can be found at: https://www.bedfordma.gov/sites/bedfordma/files/file/file/absenteeballot.pdf