Saved by Failure
The former Tiverton Town Council violated the state’s Open Meetings Act last summer, an assistant attorney general has ruled, but the matter is moot, because a proposed town charter amendment that was the subject of the complaint was not approved by voters during the November election. …
If voters had approved the proposed amendment that would have replaced the annual financial town meeting with a process that would have given the Town Council the final say on the annual budget, the vote could have been invalidated because of the attorney general’s finding, said James Amarantes, a former town treasurer who filed the complaint in July. The answer to the complaint is dated Dec. 17.
Amarantes said he depends on the postings of meeting agendas to know what the Town Council will be discussing at its upcoming meetings. The proposed charter amendment was not on the agenda for a meeting on July 7, when the council first voted to send it — and several other amendments — to a public hearing that was slated for later that month. The proposed amendment was included on the meeting notice for the public hearing on July 28.
In all honesty, I don’t believe the town council was up to anything suspicious by moving to place a newly thought-up amendment in among the rest. Indeed, the fact that the technicality might have led to voters’ being overruled had the results gone another way raises questions about the damage that too many specific rules and tight hoops through which to jump can do to a local government’s ability to lead in new directions.
On the other hand, in this instance, the new direction entailed a councilor disregarding months of Charter Review Commission meetings and proposing a new budgeting strategy that handed more authority to the town council. As I suggested, I don’t think the proposal was planned for introduction thus, but it is telling, and convenient, that the upshot was the arrogation of more power.
The underlying problem may be that local legislators believe in their own good intentions and capacity for sound judgment. They’ve witnessed the difficulty of doing things that they think ought to be done, and the way appears clear to making it possible for themselves to act more expediently. Thus, a councilor has a brainstorm epiphany that nobody is better suited to develop the town’s budget than him and his peers, and it appears perfectly reasonable to slide that thought onto a list of other items resulting from a lengthy formal process conducted by another elected body.