Confusion over whether petition may be on ballot

Wednesday January 26, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- A petition to overturn a decision made by Town Meeting Representatives on Jan. 22 may, or may not, be on the ballot March 1.

During a Town Meeting Representative meeting on Jan. 22 to approve 33 changes to the Town Charter, representatives shot down a proposal -- by a vote of 53 to 43 -- to add two additional seats to Brattleboro's Selectboard, which now has five positions.

After the vote, members of the Charter Revision Committee immediately took out a petition to add an article to the March 1 ballot that would allow all the voters of Brattleboro to vote on the matter.

By Town Charter, a petition requesting a townwide referendum vote "on any action of the Representative Town Meeting" can be submitted within five days after a decision is made.

Following the submission of a completed petition, the Selectboard has 14 days to cast a vote on whether the item should be added to the town ballot.

That means the board would have to call a special meeting, at the latest, by Sunday because, by state statute, the town has to have the ballot ready for printing on Monday.

However, one question still to be resolved is whether the vote taken by Town Meeting Representatives on Jan. 22 was an official action. Because representatives voted on only 15 of the 33 proposed changes, the meeting was recessed until Feb. 5.

According to Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray, the vote won't become an official action until the meeting is actually adjourned.

If the petition is submitted later than Sunday, Larry Bloch, a member of the Charter Revision Committee, contends a special townwide vote can be scheduled to consider increasing the size of the Selectboard.

But according to state statutes, charter revision changes can only be presented to voters during the annual townwide vote or during a primary or general election.

Bloch believes the way the Town Charter is written, authorizing referenda "on any action of the Representative Town Meeting," trumps the state statute, allowing a special vote to be scheduled.

That brings the town back to the question of whether the vote on Jan. 22 was an official action.

Town Attorney Bob Fisher was unavailable for comment on the question.

A motion to reconsider the 53 to 43 vote can't be made on Feb. 5 because such a motion must be made immediately following the vote, according to the Secretary of State's office, and not, as with the Jan. 22 meeting, after other votes on other changes have been taken.

A petition has also been started to change the terms of Selectboard positions, contingent on the addition of two new seats, to three three-year seats and four two-year seats.

A petition for adding a referendum to the town ballot must have either 50 signatures from Town Meeting Representatives or 250 signatures from registered voters.

Bob Audette can be reached at, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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