Review committee proposes Weymouth charter changes

By Ed Baker
GateHouse News Service
Posted Apr 13, 2010 @ 01:20 PM

Weymouth — Under a proposed change to the town charter, a mayor who held a town employee job before getting elected would not have the right to return to his or her prior employment.

Town Charter Review Committee Chairperson Barbara Deacon said that the proposed change is in response to confusion that arose when former Mayor David Madden returned to his duties as fire chief for one day after Mayor Susan Kay succeeded him on Jan. 2, 2008.

“This proposed change is meant to put everyone on a level playing field,” Deacon explained during the April 12 meeting of the town council’s ordinance committee.

The charter requires a mayor to take an unpaid leave of absence from his or her previous employment with the town upon being sworn into his or her new duties, but the official can’t resume working for the town until he or she has been out of office for one year.

A provision in the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission and the town charter gave Madden the right to return to his chief duties following Kay’s inauguration.

Confusion among firefighters arose when Madden announced his intention to return to the fire department as chief shortly after Kay was elected in November, 2007.

Firefighters were anxious about whether Madden’s return would result in a series of demotions.

Madden returned to the fire department for one day, and Chief Robert Leary was temporarily demoted to deputy chief.

The former mayor submitted his retirement papers on Jan. 3, 2008.

The Civil Service Commission, at Kay’s request, reinstated Leary as chief a short time later.

He has been serving as chief since 2002.

“We do understand that there are Civil Service laws that may supersede the charter,” Deacon said in response to questions about whether the proposed charter change would conflict with state law.

She said that the proposed change to the charter is an attempt to have it be in sync with private employment practices

“If a person was elected mayor and previously worked for a corporation, that firm would not necessarily keep his or her position open,” Deacon said.

The charter review committee is proposing to give the school committee an extra 22 days to submit its budget to the mayor.

This suggested adjustment was made in response to concerns raised by the committee about having to propose a budget when the state aid amount in the upcoming fiscal year was uncertain under the previous timetable.

The charter currently requires the committee to submit a budget to the mayor at least 21 days before it is submitted to the town council for review.

Charter committee members are proposing to give the school committee additional time by permitting it to submit a budget to the mayor at least 14 days before it is submitted to the council.

“I want to thank (Superintendent of Schools) Mary Jo Livingstone and (Assistant Superintendent) Mary Ann DeMello for being so helpful,” Deacon said.

The review committee additionally proposed a prohibition on allowing a mayor to serve as school committee chairman.

Deacon said that this proposal is intended to avoid a possible conflict of interest by a mayor on certain issues.

“The current mayor is in agreement with this proposal,” she said.

The review committee also proposed having a provision in the charter that permits the mayor or the council to review the charter any time it deems necessary.

The charter presently requires it to be reviewed at 10-year intervals in each year that ends in a nine.

Deacon said that the proposed change is meant to permit local officials to address matters in a timely fashion without having to wait until the end of a decade to propose revisions or amendments.

The committee did not propose any changes to the length of terms for elected officials.

“If there were any changes made to the council makeup or office terms, we were told by attorney Michael Curran that we’d have to elect a charter commission,” said Ordinance Committee Chairman Michael Smart, who represents District 6.

The proposed charter changes have to be reviewed by Mayor Kay and councilors and receive a favorable evaluation by state Attorney General Martha Coakley before they can be placed on the 2011 ballot for voters to decide their fate.

The review committee will also study a letter from Curran that questions the ability of council members to propose their own amendments to the charter before they approve the changes and forward them to Kay.

Smart and Council President Arthur Mathews said that these concerns were not voiced during the charter review process and questioned in a published report why they were not made clear earlier.

The review committee will discuss the letter during an April 27 session in the council chamber.

Deacon said that the review committee studied the charter with the realization that the voters approved it in May, 2009 and any adjustments should reflect the will of the citizens.

“We invited citizens and town officials to our meetings,” she said. “We went back to the original intent that formed it and Mr. Curran and Mr. (George) Lane were helpful in clarifying things for us.”

Deacon said that residents believe that the current form of government is addressing matters in an efficient fashion.

“We are pleased to report that during our deliberations, it was consistently apparent that changing our form of government was the right thing for the town of Weymouth,” she said as she read a report summary. “We repeatedly heard that the town is being run much more effectively. Citizens’ concerns are being addressed in a more efficient manner. Town departments can run more effectively and efficiently because there is one place and/or person to go to for answers.”