New charter panel may review town meeting budget cutting rule

New charter panel may review town meeting budget cutting rule

SMITHFIELD - Two former Town Council presidents will lead the newly formed Charter Review Commission, which over the next several months will review the document that drives government operations here and make suggestions on how it might be improved.

At its organizational meeting Monday, the nine-member agency elected as its chairman Michael Flynn, who in addition to a decade of council service was a long-time Republican state senator and a member of two former charter commissions.

Flynn, who did not seek a new Town Council term in 2012, led the commission that in 1991 drafted the current home-rule charter, which voters approved in 1992 and was implemented two years later.

Elected vice chairman at Monday's meeting was another former Republican Council President, Richard Poirier, who left the council in 2012 to run, unsuccessfully, against Democrat Stephen Archambault for the District 22 State Senate seat.

As one of its first orders of business the volunteer commission agreed to hold its next session at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 in Town Hall, but otherwise will meet on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, probably until next May, when it will forward any suggestions for change to the council.

After a public hearing, the council will decide which, if any of the proposed changes, should go on the November election ballot in 2014.

The commission, whose meetings are open to the public, said it will seek suggestions from municipal employees and town residents in general.

Flynn indicated that one topic of discussion will be the so-called "80 percent rule," which controls Financial Town Meeting procedure for increasing a departmental budget beyond the amount recommended by the council.

The rule, designed to discourage budget increases by special-interest factions at the ill-attended annual meetings, requires that any motion to raise a budget must be seconded by 80 percent of those in attendance before it can be considered.

But the rule doesn't apply to cutting a budget, which can be done from the town meeting floor by majority vote.

Last June the financial meeting cut $75,000 earmarked for an athletic field at Deerfield Park after neighborhood residents turned out to oppose it at a session attended by only 128 of the town's more than 15,000 eligible voters.

Flynn said it has been suggested that cutting a budget also be subject to the 80 percent rule.

Regarding the Financial Town Meeting in general, Flynn said that while some regard it as "old hat," he believes that it's "a good safeguard - it gives the public a chance to express themselves."

Another initial observation, made by commission member John Serapiglia Jr., was that the existing charter does not mandate that the chief of police have a college degree, but only five years of law enforcement experience or its equivalent.

He said that could produce a situation where someone with no degree assumes leadership of the department, although Town Manager Dennis Finlay said educational qualifications are covered in separate job specifications.

Poirier said that while the requirement does not appear in the charter, it is adhered to "as a matter of practice."

Current Chief Richard St. Sauveur Jr. has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in administration of justice.

Board member Henry Cipriano Jr. expressed concern that the charter, which mandates the School Committee to have its budget to the council each February, contains no provision for consequences if the deadline isn't met.

Flynn said, "They do comply, so why put it in?"

Town Manager Dennis Finlay said, "It may be at the last minute, but they do comply."

Flynn told the group that the existing charter "has served us quite well - our job is to make it a little better."

Other commission members are Bernice Butera, Tyler Choquette, Tracy Ahmadian, and Eugene Buonaccorsi.