Friday November 2, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- Wednesday will be the final chance for residents to raise questions and voice comments about proposed revisions to the village charter before it goes to a public vote.

The second of two public hearings regarding changes suggested by a charter revision committee is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre. The previous hearing was held on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

The vote is set for Tuesday, Dec. 4, and polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees decided to designate the Masonic Temple at 61 Westminster St. as the polling location.

Rockingham Assistant Town Clerk Brenda Doherty previously said state law requires the first of the two obligatory hearings to be held no fewer than 30 days before the vote is slated to take place. There is no deadline for the second hearing but no changes to the wording of the proposed amendments can be made within 20 days of the vote, she said.

Since the public hearing is slated for fewer than 30 days before the vote, citizens can express opinions and concerns about the proposed revisions but no changes can be made to the draft. Bellows Falls Village Trustee Deborah Wright, who heads the charter revision committee, said residents will have to vote for or against the entire document and cannot pick and choose which amendments they wish to approve.

The initial public hearing was held on Sept. 4. The second was scheduled for Wednesday and the voting day was set for Oct. 4. But, at a trustees meeting, more time was requested to allow residents to read through the suggested changes put forth by the charter revisions committee, which also includes Cathy Bergmann, Bob DeRusha and Trustee Andrew Smith.

Wright said the previous public hearing got a little argumentative, as several citizens objected to how the role of the municipal manager would be redefined.

Tom MacPhee, the Rockingham Selectboard Chairman attending the hearing as a village resident, said he is uncomfortable with the draft’s language regarding the manager. He said the wording means the trustees could at any time eliminate the municipal manager position, resulting in department heads having to report to them instead of the manager (currently Tim Cullenen).

"It’s not what our founding fathers wanted," MacPhee said in a telephone interview. "They wanted a village manager form of government."

Jim McAuliffe showed up at the public hearing on Oct. 23 to explain that he has objections similar to MacPhee’s. After a meeting of the Bellows Falls Community Improvement Committee the following Sunday, he attended a joint meeting of the Rockingham Selectboard and the BF Board of Trustees as a representative of the group that aims to clean up the village and its image.

McAuliffe said many members of the committee are opposed to the proposed change regarding the manager.

"There were a couple of people who (drafted the revisions) and it seems to us that they were pushing a personal agenda by increasing the power of the trustees," he told the Reformer.

He said no one has a problem with updating the village charter so it keeps up with the times, but many do not like the possibility of eliminating the manager’s position.

Wright said state statute has always allowed voters to vote to scrap the municipal manager form of government. She said the committee simply wants the village charter to provide a definition of what she considers the most important job in municipal government, which she said the current one does not do.

Wright said increasing the power of the trustees was never the committee’s intention.

Other proposed changes include an update on statutory expenses, clarification with respect to acquisition of interests in real estate, expansion on the restrictions on the use of Minard’s Pond and increases in fines for any violation of the restrictions.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.