What’s in the Scituate Home Rule Charter? And why we should vote to adopt it

What’s in the Scituate Home Rule Charter? And why we should vote to adopt it

In a few weeks Scituate voters will go to the polls to approve their Home Rule Charter. Ruth Strach, who chaired the Home Rule Charter Commission, has said that the proposed Charter will keep things basically as they are now and that the Home Rule Charter is similar to a previous document written by a panel appointed by the Town Council – with two important differences and two important changes.

One important difference is that HRC is a grassroots effort by the people of Scituate to democratically elect a Commission to write it. The result has the legitimacy that a charter from an unelected panel does not; however, since the two are similar, one might say a vote for one is like a vote for the other.

One important change will convert the position of town clerk from elective office to town employee. In more than 40 years, Scituate has had only two town clerks, Peggy Long and Roger Medbury, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, both exceptionally capable. This is rare, if not unprecedented for an elective office. The fact that Scituate has elected three different Town Councils in the last three elections underscores the need for continuity. To run for town clerk and win, there are only two requirements: be 18 years old and live in town. Scituate has been very lucky to have such excellent town clerks for so long. The Home Rule Charter removes the element of luck. Future town clerks will be chosen on the basis of experience and training.

All the meetings of the HRC were open to the public. I attended only a handful but enough to understand how they went about reaching this important decision. They interviewed officials of other Rhode Island towns who described how their charters work and what their experience was working with them.

The other important change is the creation of a town manager, an experienced, trained professional person to oversee day-to-day operation of Scituate government. The manager will report to and will be directed by the Town Council. Public administration is much more complex than it used to be and much more time consuming. We expect members of the Town Council to have vision and wisdom to guide Scituate’s direction. But they hold full-time jobs and have family and other social commitments. It is too much to expect them to manage the many details, attend the many meetings, read the many reports, write the many grant applications, negotiate the contracts and manage the budget without professional help.

The second important difference is that with a Home Rule Charter, rather than one written by an unelected panel, Scituate no longer will need permission from the state assembly. Also, after it is approved by voters, Scituate no longer will have the distinction of being the only Rhode Island town without a charter.

Robert Pearlman

North Scituate