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.