Voters will decide on new structure of town government

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 14, 2008

GUILFORD — The Board of Selectmen voted Wednesday night to let voters decide whether the town should move to a representative town meeting form of government.

The board was split, voting 3-2 to send the issue to voters at the regular election in November. Selectmen Sal Catardi and Joseph Mazza dissented.

Selectmen also voted unanimously to put several other changes to the charter on the November ballot.

The Charter Revision Commission has been working for 18 months on its recommendations to change elements of the town’s charter. Members say the biggest change would be a move to a representative town meeting form of government, where residents would elect 25 people to handle issues that now come up at periodic town meetings, as well as some other duties.

Currently, all registered voters and taxpayers over the age of 18 can attend town meetings and vote.

While selectmen and Charter Revision Commission members have said they support the RTM proposal, there was disagreement about how the nominees for the body should be selected. The commission suggested a non-partisan system where candidates would have to obtain signatures from residents in their districts to get on the ballot.

But some selectmen said that they think the candidates should be appointed by the Republican and Democratic town committees. At a meeting last month, the board voted in favor of a partisan system, but sent the issue back to the commission for its final recommendations.

Catardi asked whether the board could approve the RTM while eliminating the commission’s wording on how the candidates would be chosen.

“It seems to me that you’re not rewriting (the recommendations) and there does not have to be language in here for how people get appointed or elected,” he said.

Town Counsel Peter Barrett said he thought that if the selectmen did not take an “up-or-down vote” on the recommendations, they would risk a legal challenge to the decision.

“I think it’s corrupting the integrity of what’s been proposed here,” Barrett said.

Fred Trotta, chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, said the question of whether RTM members should be partisan was a point of contention for commission members.

“If there’s one topic in the life of this commission that we’ve debated more strongly, I don’t know what it is,” Trotta said. “I think taking out that section — cutting and pasting — would essentially undermine the intent of what the charter commission did.”

The commission’s other recommended charter changes are: extending selectmen’s terms to four years from the current two; the creation of a public works commission; the elimination of the town treasurer position; and that people appointed to fill vacancies on a board or commission would fill out the remainder of the vacant term.

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