Vote yes to end fast-track vote on bonding
The following letter appeared in local newspapers and is shared with us here by the author George C. Tremblay. Mr. Tremblay is a member of the Charlestown Town Council.
On Nov. 8, Charlestown residents will be asked to approve a charter change that would require all citizens’ initiatives that entail bonded indebtedness be put before the largest available pool of voters after an extended period for public review and comment. Currently, such initiatives can be fast-tracked by putting them before fewer voters within a month after announcement at the budget hearing in May.
The charter change still allows for announcement each May, but delays voting to allow review and debate until the general election in November, when voter turnout is highest. The charter change was proposed by the Charlestown Town Council at its August meeting, with unanimous consent.
A citizens’ initiative can be put on the ballot by any independent body of at least 200 registered voters wishing to introduce a particular financial proposal. The proposed charter change would affect only those initiatives that impose long-term bonded indebtedness on the town. Bonded indebtedness by citizens’ initiative does not require Town Council approval, nor does the council have authority to block it.
The citizens’ initiative is independent of elected town government. It follows that the town is best served when such financial obligations reflect the voice of the largest number of voters among a well-informed public. The proposed charter change promotes this result.
Although the Town Council is not bound by the charter change, it should be guided by it. To respond promptly to urgent needs, the Town Council must retain its authority to request bonded indebtedness at any time. However, it can and should defer council-initiated bonded indebtedness for new and nonessential expenditures (e.g., funding for open space) to the ballot box at the general election. When possible, proposals for bonded indebtedness by the Town Council should meet the same standard as that set for the citizens’ initiative.
To be clear, the charter change would delay the opportunity to approve a citizens’ initiative from an annual to an alternate-year event. Opponents have argued that eliminating the annual May/June option for fast-track review and approval denies them their democratic rights. Students of history know that, by careful and deliberate design, ours is not a plebeian democracy. We have inherited a representative form of government that authorizes those we elect to office to act on our behalf, which the council did when it put this charter change on the November ballot.
To promote fiscal responsibility within the citizens’ initiative, Charlestown voters are urged to eliminate the fast-track option by approving the proposed charter amendment on Nov. 8.