Friday, February 12, 2010

Information from Town Government Study Committee

This column, Charting a New Course, is designed to provide information about the charters to Bridgewater residents who will vote April 24th as to the form of government they prefer. This column will address various aspects of the charters each week. Residents are encouraged to submit questions and comments by emailing the Town Government Study Committee at: TownGovernmentStudy@bridgewaterma.org. Questions and comments will be answered directly or in a subsequent column. A program by the same name will also air on BTV starting February 7th.


Bridgewater’s 54 original settlers in1650 governed themselves by following a loose set of by-laws that were adopted and changed throughout the years. All residents were required to attend Town Meeting under the threat of being fined if they didn’t. Bridgewater, unlike many towns, instead of charting it’s own course eventually relied on state laws and local by-laws to govern itself. This worked when the population was small and the needs less complex.


What is a Charter?

Simply stated, a charter is a constitution for Bridgewater. The proposed charters are simply a codification of how the town will govern itself in the future. Approval by the state legislature is required to ensure charters conform to state law. Bridgewater’s charters are in the process of being approved by the legislature and residents will vote Yes or No on either charter in April.


What will a charter do for Bridgewater?

The charters outline, in plain terms, (not a comprehensive list)

· who makes policy and what policies are to be made

· who manages the day to day affairs of the town

· who has authority and responsibility for what

· how the town’s finances are to be handled and mandates annual audits

· how people are selected for appointment to the various boards

· contains checks and balances on the executive and legislative branches

· requires long-range financial and capital planning, as well as annual evaluation of town manager

· requires human resource policies be developed

· requires publication of budget documents on line

· guarantees the rights of citizens to speak at all meetings of the Board of Selectman/Town Council,

· outlines the specific rights of citizens to put forth initiatives and petitions, and more that will be addressed in future articles.


Suffice to say the charters are a road map as to how the town must conduct its business.


How were out charters written?

The Town Government Study Committee did not write the charters in a vacuum but:

· researched the best practices of towns that have charters,

· compared those best practices against a national model charter published by National Civic League,

· consulted with town managers in towns operating under a charter,

· consulted with state experts on charters.


The proposed charters reflect the combined wisdom of those individuals and organizations involved in charter development and managing a town under a charter. The best practices reflected in the charters are those modern practices of management that towns should be using to govern even if they don’t have a charter.

Both charters professionalize the management of the town by putting a town manager in place who has the education, experience, and the skill set to manage the operations of a complex $40 million dollar business like Bridgewater. It holds one individual accountable for implementing the policies that are made by the elected Board of Selectman/Town Council and removes the day-to-day management of the daily business of the town from those elected entities.


It should also be noted that a charter is a “Living and Breathing Document”, created through a collective, consensus driven process and as such it will never be “Perfect” in everyone’s eyes. Therefore it is mandatory that the charter be reviewed every six years for potential updates. It can also be changed sooner through an amendment process, with input from the citizens of Bridgewater.


Next column will address the town manager, responsibilities and authority.

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