Home rule charter petition far exceeds required total

Home rule charter petition far exceeds required total

Ruth Strach, second from right, and Mary Morse, right, spent the last seven months collecting signatures for a home rule charter ballot question. They are joined by supporters, from left, Pauline Campbell, Lucille Massemino, and Linda Carlow. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SCITUATE – Scituate residents Ruth Strach and Mary Morse arrived at the Scituate Town Hall on April 6 with 200 pages containing 1,755 signatures, more than 400 over what’s needed to petition for a special ballot asking the community if it wants a home rule charter.

Scituate is the only town in Rhode Island without a charter, though the Scituate Charter Commission, started last year, is in the process of drafting a legislative charter.

According to Article XIII of the Rhode Island Constitution, a town may petition for a home rule charter, which places more authority in the hands of the town instead of the state, after 15 percent of the registered voters in town sign a petition.

“It’s like a manual for the town. The charter stays with us, stays with the people. They have the power to change it, and they have the legal right to change it,” said Strach.

The Town Council must then acknowledge the petition, before the clerk and Board of Canvassers can validate the signatures. Once validated, the council is required by law to call a special election within 60 days asking the community if residents want to form a home rule charter, Strach said. Included on the ballot are the candidates to be on the home charter commission as well, to be voted into position.

“The Scituate Town Council denied the people their right to self government by establishing a legislative charter committee, but clearly almost 20 percent of the voters want to claim that right,” Strach said.

The petition is on the agenda tonight, Thursday, April 12, for the Town Council.

The commission would then have one year to create a home rule charter to be presented to the voters for approval, according to Strach.

Since last September, Strach, Morse and many other town people collected signatures at local events, the police station special election, and at the library.

“We were standing outside in the snow, in the rain, standing outside the IGA, during the village stroll, we went door-to-door, and held open library sessions,” Morse said.

Strach said there were times when she would get home after standing outside collecting signatures and her feet were white from the cold.

“This is nothing other than grassroots democracy,” Strach added. “It’s for the future of the town.”

Town Council President John Mahoney said he is in the process of vetting out the petition, and learning more about the process.

“I’m okay with it as long as we have a charter,” he said.

He said his major qualm is that he purposely created the Charter Commission to be bipartisan, and an elected commission would not have that guarantee.

For more information, visit www.scituatehomerule.wordpress.com .