Westminster rejects all charter revision articles

WESTMINSTER -- All three proposed revisions to the town charter were rejected by voters on Tuesday.

Election official Doreen Woodward told the Reformer the public voted 245 to 151 against an article that would have allowed the Westminster Selectboard to appoint the town clerk, a position that will continue to be elected by the people. The Selectboard also was denied the ability to appoint the town treasurer, as citizens voted 233 to 162 against the notion.

The final article shot down by voters was the one that would have taken away much power from the town's three listers by converting Westminster to an assessment form of listing.

Two public informational meetings were held in the run-up to the vote to give voters the chance to raise concerns and ask questions about the articles. The meetings and Tuesday's voting were held at the Westminster Institute.

Town Manager Russ Hodgkins previously told the Reformer that elections of town clerks or treasurers often become popularity contests, even though the positions are crucial to the function of the town and require a lot of specific skills. He said the jobs are becoming increasingly detailed and intricate and the person elected by their peers may not necessarily be the right one to fit the town's needs. These were the reasons for articles 1 and 2.

Hodgkins mentioned discussion of a possible revision arose because Woodward, also the longtime town clerk/town treasurer, plans to retire from the position on Sept. 30. He said Allison Bigwood has been learning the job in order to replace Woodward and finish the rest of her term. Hodgkins said Bigwood will now have to run for the position in order to keep it.

In regards to the third article, which came at the recommendation of the town's legal counsel, Hodgkins previously told the Reformer that switching to an assessment form of listing would have saved the town money in legal fees and benefits. He explained the revision would have meant a professional company or individual would be hired as a neutral third party as a way to prevent favoritism and any possible mishandling of affairs. Hodgkins said the town currently has one full-time lister and two part-time listers, who still would have heard appeals as part of their jobs.

Hodgkins told the Reformer the first two articles spawned from information from the state level. He said many towns are looking into adjusting the way certain town positions are filled.

"The jobs are getting tougher, they're getting more demanding," he said, adding that he understands both sides of the argument. "I can see it, first-hand, how the appointments would have been (beneficial), but I also see the that town of Westminster is a historic town with historic values. Voting in elections is really important to the Westminster people. It was up to the taxpayers and they voiced their opinions."

He said, however, he was disappointed in the voter turnout, as just slightly more than 400 ballots were cast.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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