Westminster's second town charter meeting set for Aug. 12


WESTMINSTER -- The town has planned for mid-August the second obligatory special meeting regarding potential town charter revisions that would change the way certain town positions would be filled.

Town Manager Russ Hodgkins said the meeting slated for Aug. 12 will give taxpayers another opportunity to make comments and ask questions before coming to a conclusion on how to vote in the Aug. 26 primary election. He explained the town clerk and town treasurer are currently elected by voters, but a potential revision to the town charter would allow the Westminster Selectboard to appoint people to those jobs. The revision also would convert the town to an assessment form of listing and take away a great deal of power from the three listers.

Hodgkins said elections of town clerks or treasurers run the risk of becoming popularity contests, even though the positions are critical to the function of the town and come with a lot of required skills. He said the jobs are becoming more and more detailed and intricate and the person elected by their peers may not necessarily be the right one to fit the town's needs.

Hodgkins said a revision of the town charter would offer a system of checks and balances and ensure someone is appointed to an important position only after a thorough interview process.

"Expertise and being able to interview people is huge in jobs that are demanding," he said, adding that townspeople may love a particular candidate who is not qualified for a position he or she is running for. This revision would make sure merit, and not just popularity, leads to important appointments.

The previous public informational meeting was held at the Westminster Institute on July 14. The Aug. 12 meeting will be held at the same location.

Hodgkins also said switching to an assessment form of listing would save the town money in legal fees and benefits. He explained the revision would mean a professional company 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 would still hear appeals as part of their jobs.

Hodgkins, who was appointed to his position in the fall of 2013, said discussion of a possible revision arose because longtime Town Clerk/Town Treasurer Doreen Woodward plans to retire from the position on Sept. 30. He told the Reformer Allison Bigwood has been learning the job in order to replace Woodward and finish the remainder of her term. Hodgkins said Bigwood, as long as there are no unforeseen issues, will retain the job in March if the town charter is revised but will have to run for the position if it is not.

Hodgkins said the town's previous special meeting regarding the potential charter revision "wasn't as informational as we were hoping. It was more of an opinionated meeting." He explained that many residents showed up with pre-conceived notions about the revision and took issue with it.

"They assume the Selectboard is trying to pull something over their heads. It really is just the opposite," he said Tuesday. "(Selectboard members) are trying to inform the public of statewide town interests in changing the charter.

"The Selectboard is sitting on here on even ground," he added. "They do not have an opinion."

Selectboard Chairman Nathan Stoddard said he and his colleagues simply want to get the issue onto the ballot so the entire town can weigh in on the issue.

He said he was impressed with the public turnout of the previous informational meeting, which he said rivaled the attendance of the annual Town Meetings.

Hodgkins mentioned he, too, is neutral on the issue and has not made up his mind about it.

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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