Tuesday December 11, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- Village voters overwhelmingly rejected proposed changes to their charter last week and the head of the committee responsible for the suggested revisions said no one will attempt to alter the document for a while.

Bellows Falls Village Trustee Deborah Wright said there are a lot of hard feelings between the opposing sides and the charter revisions committee she chairs will not attempt to touch the charter for the foreseeable future.

According to Town Clerk Brenda Doherty, the public voted 212-69 against the revisions on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Wright said she is also disappointed in voter turnout, as she said only 281 -- or 16 percent -- of the village's 1,800 registered voters showed up to cast their ballot at the Masonic Temple on Westminster Street. She said the low numbers were the result of apathy and fear. She said many are apathetic following the much-hyped presidential election in November and others were afraid of the proposed changes due to the rhetoric of those who opposed the revisions.

"It all got down to a game of semantics," Wright said. "The majority did not read the charter and these (voters) are the people running the show."

Voters had to choose to adopt or reject a revised charter in its entirety. They were not be allowed to pick which changes they wanted and which ones they didn't. The proposed changes included an update on statutory expenses, a clarification with respect to acquisition of interests in real estate, an expansion on the restrictions on the use of Minard's Pond and a definition of the municipal manager's role and the option to eliminate the position.


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Opponents of the suggested alterations included Doug MacPhee, who attended both public hearings (Oct. 23 and Nov. 7) about them. He had submitted a request to the charter revisions committee to edit some of the proposed alterations but they were not accepted.

MacPhee could not be reached for comment on Monday.

"I'm not happy that they didn't accept them," he told the Reformer the day of the public vote. He was standing outside the Masonic Temple in support of the revisions being struck down. "I still think the charter itself is a little too complicated -- a lot more than it has to be. I want something more simple that just reflects what the village is. There's too many unanswered questions."

He felt the charter revisions committee -- made up of Wright, fellow Trustee Andrew Smith and village residents Cathy Bergmann and Bob DeRusha -- was trying to push a personal agenda by increasing the power of the trustees.

Wright said increasing the power of the trustees was never the committee's intention. Wright elaborated by saying state statute has always allowed residents to vote get rid of the municipal manager form of government. She said the committee merely wanted the village charter to provide a definition for what she considers the most important job in municipal government, which she said the current one does not do.

"We just wanted to bring the charter up to the 21st century," Wright said. "That was the point, but that is not what was wanted."

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