Voters approve Home Rule Charter Commission

Voters approve Home Rule Charter Commission

Jerry and Deanna Payette join Michael Marcello, center, outside Scituate High School on June 28 before voting during the Home Rule Charter special election. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SCITUATE – After the organizers of the Home Rule Charter stood out in the snow and freezing rain gathering petition signatures for the ballot question, it seemed appropriate that the pair were out in the rain during special election day.

Standing outside of Hope Elementary School during the special election last Thursday, June 28, co-initiator Mary Manning-Morse, holding her umbrella by her side during one of the breaks in the rain, thanked voters for coming out. Her pants were wet up to her knees, and she said the rain was a fitting ending to the experience.

“Rain is not a problem, I’ve stood in the rain before, a little water won’t hurt,” she said.

A whopping 94 percent of voters, or 1,414 people, who participated in the Home Rule Charter special election voted to appoint a commission to create a Home Rule Charter.

A total of 1,451 residents came out in the rain to vote, and that number grew to 1,585 voters when factoring in mail ballots. In the months leading up to the election, Manning-Morse and co-initiator Ruth Strach collected 1,755 signatures to hold the special election.

“I am so impressed by the dedication by people in the Hope District,” Manning-Morse said. She said people came to the polls prepared, knowing whom they would vote for on the ballot. In total, 23 residents ran for a seat on the commission.

Strach spent the majority of her day at Scituate High School handing out flyers with the “original” charter supporters suggested as the nine commission members.

All nine elected members are from the original supporters list: Ruth Strach, Mary Manning-Morse, Erika McCormick, Brian Carpenter, Kirk Loiselle, Theodore Pryzbyla, Steven Brannigan, Stephen Hopkins, and Terry Nolin.

“It’s about the process,” she said. “People will support what they helped create.”

Strach began the fight for a Home Rule Charter, which is a right given to towns in Article XIII in the Rhode Island Constitution, last August when Town Council President John Mahoney refused to add her on the meeting agenda to speak, she said.

She said she was motivated by democratic ideals, and the need to define roles of town officials. Her intention, she said, was to unite the community.

“We did not elect a king when we voted for a Town Council,” she said. “That’s why we need that rulebook. I don’t think we’ll decide that we’ll need a king.”

There’s no doubt that Scituate needs a charter, say proponents. It’s the sole town in the state that does not have a charter. In an effort to create the governing document, the Town Council appointed a Charter Commission last June.

Also handing out a suggested list was Michael Marcello, member of the Charter Commission. Four members of the commission, including Marcello, Raymond Grigelevich, Sharon Johnson and Susan Lessard, also ran for Home Rule Charter Commission seats.

Referred to among residents as the “Marcello Charter,” the commission worked for 10 months to write a proposed charter to be edited by the council and approved by the General Assembly.

In a reverse move, Marcello said the council and Rep. Robert Quattrocchi pushed a bill at the state level requesting a November ballot question that would ask voters to approve the charter before assembly approval next January.

“Bills like that usually get pushed forward,” he said, but this one did not.

With all but three members, unaffiliated members Ruth Strach, Steve Branningan and Nick Murphy, of the HRC Commission affiliated with the Republican party, Marcello said it remains to be seen if the proposed HRC will be neutral and acceptable to all, or skewed toward their political leanings.

“The public has a right to expect that its governing document is drafted in the open for all to see and not behind the closed doors of the Republican Town Committee,” he said.

Marcello said his version is dead, and the town will wait for the home rule version.

“The question now becomes how much longer does Scituate need to wait to get one,” he said.

Strach said the HRC Commission, which has a year to draft a document to be voted on by Scituate residents, would lean on the commission’s other charters from similar towns.

Though the HRC Commission could write a document in time to be on the November ballot, Strach said she did not begin the home rule process to come up with a final product in a few weeks. Ultimately, she said, she would like to produce a document that fits the town’s needs.

“There’s a uniqueness to this town, so there should be a uniqueness to this charter,” she said.