The Brattleboro Charter Revision Commission has been formed and work is getting underway to look at, poke at, discuss, debate and suggest revisions to the Brattleboro Charter.
Here are five revisions I think are worth considering:
1. Eliminate Weigher of Coal and Inspector of Lumber, Shingles, & Wood Positions
This is an easy one. These are obsolete positions. VLCT agrees. A coal weigher for a climate-minded, environmental town in 2023 is embarrassing. There are other state and federal laws governing the selling of wood. Only a Charter change can make it happen. Make it happen! (I asked for this last Charter Revision, too…)
2. Strengthen Representative’s Power
Brattleboro’s representative body is weak, by design. This would be a good time to increase the governing power of representatives. Representatives should create and present the budget each year, not the Selectboard. To accomplish this, RTM should appoint or elect a budget committee each year. The RTM Budget Committee, then, would have “budget season” and meetings with town departments.
This was an option that Brattleboro decided NOT to implement, by the way, when we originally adapted the representative town meeting system from other towns in Massachusetts. It should be reconsidered.
3. Strengthen Representation with Annual District Meetings
Currently, representatives govern without much input from those they represent. This was not the way RTM was originally intended. Districts were supposed to be stronger and more active than they currently are. The Charter should be updated to require regular meetings of representatives with those they represent. At the very least, this should be an annual district meeting.
4. Reverse the Decisions of the Previous Charter Revision Commission Regarding Write-In Votes
The last charter revision commission changed the way write-in votes were handled in town, from a “count them all” approach to a restrictive “we’ll only count write-in votes from a pre-approved list.”
Reverse the requirement that a voter must convince the person they’d like to write-in to register with the Town Clerk so that their vote will be counted. Go back to counting all write-in votes. It was never a tremendous burden for the Town Clerk, and a Town Clerk is charged with counting all votes. Eliminate this laziness and allow Brattleboro voters to write-in anyone and have that vote counted again.
5. Call for a Vote on Whether to Continue RTM
Brattleboro voters really need to be given the opportunity to vote on whether to continue Representative Town meeting or return to a regular Town Meeting. This needs to be a town-wide vote, and it should be written in to the Charter to ask this question at regular intervals. It’s been half a century since voters were asked about this.
A brave Charter Revision Commission would put this question to the voters at-large. A confident RTM that was working well would not shy away from a regular vote to affirm governance in this manner. (I tease…)
Note: Here’s the history of how Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting and Charter came to be….
Representative Town Meeting in Brattleboro – Part 1: Its Origins and Adoption
Thanks for Thinking
Thanks for the thoughtful suggestions, Chris.
I will disagree with you Chris on your suggested revision #2. If a committee is selected from the representatives, it would mean voters do not have a direct say on who serves on the committee. It would also mean those selected would need to be directly involved with all that happens within the town to be well informed in coming up with budgets. We already have that committee and they are directly elected by us voters. It is the Selectboard.
We could give that power to voters, then... : )
Hurrah, some debate! : )
I took this idea from Milton, MA, where our version of RTM was somewhat copied from. They did assume that representatives would be more involved throughout the year, following town issues and relaying information and concerns to and from their district constituents.
I like that this would both put pressure on Reps to do some representing beyond showing up once a year, and would give more of a purpose to RTM.
But, I can back off of this suggestion and change it… if the plan is to continue with a weak RTM system, where most reps aren’t asked to do anything beyond attend, then that might be another argument for bringing back regular, full town meeting.
If RTM reps aren’t going to really do much of anything beyond attend, heck, regular folks can do that just as well!
And here’s one to make some brains hurt- The Town Clerk claims it is too much work to count unregistered write-ins. How much time would be saved by not needing to keep track of representatives? Just the voter list from now on. Simple and time-saving! I’m sure Town Clerks would agree! ; )
If the goal is to keep RTM, I’d push for budget powers. Otherwise, just have regular Town Meeting and save a lot of hassle. : )