School leaders would revamp '80 percent rule'

School leaders would revamp '80 percent rule'

SMITHFIELD - The School Committee has suggested changing a long-standing rule that it says stifles discussion at the annual Financial Town Meeting.

Appearing Feb. 3 before a commission studying potential changes in the town's municipal charter, committee members took aim at the so-called "80 percent rule."

Designed to discourage last-minute budget increases by special interest factions at the sparsely attended sessions, the rule requires that any motion to increase a departmental budget must be seconded by 80 percent of those in attendance before it can be put on the floor for debate.

In the past, school board requests for more money than the Town Council recommends have failed to qualify for discussion because they could not muster an 80 percent second.

Making the board's case for a change was its chairman, Richard Iannitelli, who suggested that a single person be allowed to second a motion for budgetary increases, and that an 80 percent vote be required only for final approval.

That way, Iannitelli said, the tight control on additional spending would still apply, but departments and taxpayers who support increases would at least have a chance to argue their case.

The 80 percent rule applies only to budget increases. Motions for cutting budgets can be put on the floor with just a single second.

The rule came under scrutiny after last year's Financial Town Meeting, which unexpectedly cut $75,000 earmarked for an athletic field at Deerfield Park when neighboring residents turned out to oppose it.

The meeting drew only 128 of the town's more than 15,000 voters.

Subsequently, some suggested that the 80 percent rule apply equally to proposals for increasing or cutting budgets.

Iannitelli said the School Committee recently voted unanimously to suggest a change in the seconding process "so people at the meeting can have their say."

He said that while residents can also offer their opinions at an annual public hearing on the proposed budget, many households are busy and people who wish to vote at the financial meeting might not be able to attend the prior hearing as well.

The nine-member Charter Review Commission, headed by former Town Council President Michael Flynn, is charged with recommending potential charter changes to the council, which will decide which of the proposals, if any, to put on November's general election ballot.