Westminster Voters Reject Plan to Change Town Charter
WESTMINSTER -- Plans to fundamentally overhaul the structure of town government failed after an article to change the town’s charter was rejected at Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting by nearly all of the 100 residents who attended.
They rejected a proposal to replace the town administrator with a town manager, a move that opponents said would have given too much power to one person, eliminate several commissions and elected positions in town and have the authority to appoint department heads who would only be accountable to the town manager.
“It puts too much power into the hands of one person,” said Town Moderator John Bowen.
If the article had passed, it would have been a warrant item for the annual Town Meeting on May 4.
More than 100 voters crammed into the elementary school cafeteria to vote on the lone warrant article. The vote required a two-thirds majority for passage.
Advisory Board member Joseph Serio also stood in opposition of the article.
He argued that eliminating groups like the Liquor Commission would be “unfair” to both selectmen, who would then shoulder responsibility in the future, and to business owners.
“In principal, to have a strong manager with a singular voice to guide us into the next phase of our growth is vital, but I think that it needs to be tweaked,” he said.
Other vocal opponents of the article suggested the new power dynamic would not be a “representative” form of government, arguing that the town manager would not be held accountable by voters.
Several residents said their right to vote would be challenged if the town’s government were lead by a town manager.
Supporters of the article say the charter would establish a streamlined system of government and improve overall efficiency.
“There is a clear need to restructure our local government as outlined,” said Selectman Wayne Walker. “I am convinced beyond any doubt that this is the right decision for the town.”
The proposed charter was the culmination of a two-year process by which the Town Government Study Committee reviewed the current town charter, investigated other options for the town, and then proposed the new charter with a town manager.
The committee found that the town government lacks accountability and collaboration among departments.
A representative from the consultant firm Community Paradigm Associates LLC, Bernie Lynch, said the town administrator currently doesn’t have any real authority and the town would benefit from fewer elected positions across the board.
Current Town Administrator Karen Murphy is set to retire at year’s end, according to officials, so there will still be a change at the top in Westminster in the future.