Charlestown com­mis­sion­ers dis­cuss char­ter changes



— Town com­mis­sion­ers dis­cussed a host of po­ten­tial changes to the char­ter last week, in­clud­ing cre­at­ing poli­cies for board mem­ber ab­sen­teeism and re­mote at­ten­dance and mak­ing the board pres­i­dent an elected po­si­tion.

Dur­ing the com­mis­sioner’s meet­ing on Tues­day, Wib Pumpaly, town ad­min­is­tra­tor, noted that there are two ways to amend the town char­ter. Ei­ther 20 per­cent of res­i­dents who are el­i­gi­ble to vote in town can bring a char­ter change to the board or the com­mis­sion­ers them­selves can cre­ate char­ter changes.

Pumpaly noted that the last time char­ter changes oc­curred in late 2010, the board pres­i­dent at the time cre­ated a Char­ter Re­view Com­mis­sion, which made sev­eral char­ter amend­ments.

The board be­gan its dis­cus­sion by talk­ing about ab­sen­teeism, with many com­mis­sion­ers not­ing that while it’s not cur­rently a prob­lem, it’s im­por­tant to be proac­tive. Charlestown’s char­ter cur­rently states that if a com­mis­sioner misses more than three con­sec­u­tive months of meet­ings with­out board ap­proval, the com­mis­sioner will be re­moved from the board.


Re­nee Ca­pano, com­mis­sioner pres­i­dent, brought up Per­ryville’s char­ter, not­ing that the town just amended it in Au­gust. Per­ryville’s char­ter states that if an elected of fi­cial fails to at­tend three con­sec­u­tive leg­isla­tive meet­ings in per­son or re­motely, with­out board ap­proval, they will be re­moved from the board.

Com­mis­sioner Andy Thomp­son added that Ris­ing Sun’s char­ter has a sim­i­lar pro­vi­sion.

But Com­mis­sioner Joseph Letts said he is not in fa­vor of some­one be­ing re­moved for miss­ing three con­sec­u­tive meet­ings be­cause that stan­dard is a “bit much.”

“My take on this is we’re work­ing peo­ple. There’s not a per­son in this room or at this ta­ble who don’t work,” Letts said. “And there are maybe times, I’ve missed three this whole year, I bet you I’ve missed six in the 14 or 15 years I’ve been on this board, but it does hap­pen.”

Letts main­tained that ab­sen­teeism has not been an is­sue for the board and Thomp­son agreed.

“Like Joe ( Letts) said, it’s never been an is­sue yet, no need to beat it to death,” Thomp­son said. “Let’s make sure it makes sense.”

Ca­pano said it is some­thing to look at and some­thing the town should have in its char­ter in case an is­sue with ab­sen­teeism does come up. Af­ter the meet­ing, she noted that one rea­son the topic of ab­sen­teeism was brought up for dis­cus­sion is be­cause some res­i­dents have no­ticed there is not al­ways a full board for meet­ings.

“They’ve no­ticed some peo­ple don’t come to ev­ery meet­ing,” she said. “We’ve no­ticed that other towns have it in their char­ter, that we need to have some­thing to be proac­tive.”

The com­mis­sion­ers also talked about hav­ing the po­si­tion of mayor elected by the res­i­dents. Cur­rently, the pres­i­dent of the board, who serves as the town’s de facto mayor, is elected through a se­cret bal­lot process among the board’s five mem­bers. The po­si­tions of vice pres­i­dent and trea­surer are also elected this way.

Letts called this process a “pop­u­lar­ity con­test” and said it should be up to the res­i­dents to elect the mayor or pres­i­dent.

“It should come from th­ese folks ( res­i­dents) right here,” Letts said. “If they don’t want me to be their pres­i­dent, mayor, pres­i­dent, what­ever you want to call it, it’s up to them to tell me.”

Thomp­son also agreed with Letts that the vote should come from the res­i­dents, but he noted that a few things need to be worked out, which will take some time.

Mary Carol Du­range, com­mis­sioner vice pres­i­dent, sug­gested that the com­mis­sion­ers look at other town’s char­ters and see what they like in those doc­u­ments as a way to help guide them. Thomp­son added that the res­i­dents should have in­put, as well.

Pumpaly said if the com­mis­sion­ers want to move for­ward with the idea of res­i­dents vot­ing for a mayor, a res­o­lu­tion needs to be cre­ated to be­gin the process. Al­ter­na­tively, the board could go the route of let­ting the res­i­dents de­cide or cre­ate another group to look at the char­ter.

Ca­pano asked Pumpaly to write a res­o­lu­tion, just in case. Af­ter the meet­ing, Ca­pano said this is­sue needs to be fig­ured out by Jan­uary be­cause a res­o­lu­tion would need to be cre­ated and then put on the bal­lot for the next town elec­tion so res­i­dents can de­cide if they’d like a may­oral race or if they’d like to keep the vot­ing process for the com­mis­sioner pres­i­dent.

The com­mis­sion­ers also tack­led re­mote at­ten­dance at last week’s meet­ing, a pol­icy the town does not have in its char­ter.

The Mary­land Mu­nic­i­pal League is en­cour­ag­ing the town to cre­ate a pol­icy about re­mote at­ten­dance, Ca­pano said, adding that the board should think about how many times some­one can call in to a meet­ing and what method peo­ple can use to call in.

Letts said he is not in fa­vor of re­mote at­ten­dance be­cause if he goes on va­ca­tion, he does not want to be both­ered, but Ca­pano said it would only ap­ply to sit­u­a­tions such as if a per­son on the board is called out for work.

Ken Con­falone, a former com­mis­sioner, said the board should keep a few things in mind when it comes to re­mote at­ten­dance such as how many peo­ple can call in dur­ing a meet­ing and if town res­i­dents will also be al­lowed to call in and par­tic­i­pate.

Thomp­son noted that there’s an area in Bal­ti­more that al­lows peo­ple to Skype in, which has in­creased at­ten­dance. Ca­pano said she is in fa­vor of that, not­ing that county meet­ings are up­loaded to YouTube.

Fi­nally, the town com­mis­sion­ers dis­cussed chang­ing from two leg­isla­tive meet­ings a month to one leg­isla­tive meet­ing and one work­shop meet­ing a month.

Ca­pano said the work­ing meet­ings would al­low the board to fo­cus on dis­cussing cer­tain items that could then be con­sid­ered dur­ing a leg­isla­tive meet­ing.

Thomp­son said he is in fa­vor of the idea of work­shop meet­ings, but said they should be held as needed for cer tain items.

“I like the idea of a work­ing meet­ing, but I don’t want it to be a time sink,” he noted.

Thomp­son said he does like that the town has two leg­isla­tive meet­ings a month, since it al­lows the board to vote when needed and also al­lows the pub­lic two chances to speak.

Letts noted that a work­shop meet­ing does not al­low the pub­lic to speak, and only al­lows the com­mis­sion­ers to come to­gether and speak, while the pub­lic watches.

Du­range said she would like to at­tend another town’s work­shop meet­ing to see how other boards con­duct their work­shops.

Ca­pano said she will reach out to Perr yville Mayor Jim Eber­hardt to see when the town is hold­ing its next work­shop meet­ing so the board can at­tend if they want. Per­ryville holds one leg­isla­tive meet­ing and one work­shop meet­ing a month.

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