A local charter can never be clear enough to thwart local officials with no respect for their community.
On Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve posted an update on efforts to block residents from putting budget proposals on the ballot of our financial town referendum. The upshot is that it’s not good.
In the course of declining to intervene and force the Board of Canvassers to reverse its refusal to allow voters to consider other options than the town’s original proposal, Superior Court Judge Brian Van Couyghen took an ax to the rules as the people who wrote the charter intended them and as they’ve been enforced since the referendum was created more than a decade ago.
Ever since the day the people of Tiverton overwhelmingly voted to add the financial town referendum (FTR) to our home rule charter, local insiders have been striving to change or stop it. Christopher Cotta, who was then the Budget Committee chairman, went so far as to attend a General Assembly committee hearing to beg legislators not to allow voters to have their way. (Legislators’ passing of home rule charter amendments is typically done simply as a matter of course.)
In 2018, the town council blew off all suggested charter changes by the elected Charter Review Commission and substituted their own desires on the ballot, including changes giving them a stronger hand in the FTR. Voters rejected every change.
But with Cotta as town administrator and Denise deMedeiros sitting as the Town Council president, Tiverton’s town solicitor, Michael Marcello (who is a former state representative and a member of the town council in his hometown of Scituate), found a way to change the charter without requiring a vote of the people.
But every situation comes with positive opportunities, and in this case perhaps it will be possible to reset some of the hostility in town by redrawing political lines between those who agree that rules are meant to help us work together, not to give government a way to leverage its limitless legal budget to thwart electors’ attempts to be involved.