Town manager petition amended to keep elected road commissioner

The group pushing for a vote by residents on whether to switch to a town manager had another meeting on Aug. 1 after looking into state statutes to determine how they wished to proceed.

And they decided they were going ahead with their effort, which means that they will be soliciting signatures for a revised petition.

The group already had close to 200 signatures for a petition calling for a town vote on the issue. If submitted, that petition would have forced a vote in 30 days, but after discovering that state statute requires a town manager to become the de facto road commissioner, the group decided to hold off while they decided their next move.

Now, they have a revised petition, including a provision requiring a charter that would enable Charlotte to continue with an elected road commissioner if it switches to a town manager. As an elected town official, the road commissioner would not answer to the town manager if the residents vote to make that change to town governance.

The members of the group hope to have more than the required 5 percent of town voters or 180 signatures collected for their petition by the selectboard’s Monday, Aug. 14, meeting. If the selectboard does not decide to call for a vote on the town manager issue, the group hopes to submit its plan to the town clerk the next day.

But if they haven’t collected enough signatures by that time, they planned to continue the effort. And they’ve got plenty of time because now they can’t have a vote on their amended petition until March.

Although the group had originally planned to have a called vote on the change to a town manager from a town administrator form of municipal government before current town administrator Dean Bloch retires at the end of October, they have come to the conclusion that their amended petition will have to be approved at town meeting because it now includes a proposal for a charter keeping an elected town road commissioner.

Charles Russell read from state statute that requires a “petition charter proposal shall be submitted to the voters at the next annual meeting, primary or general election.”

Lane Morrison said, although it could be submitted to voters at a special meeting called by the selectboard, it’s unlikely that the current selectboard would call for a special meeting before Town Meeting Day this March.

Voting on the town manager proposal would be by Australian ballot.

Charlotte Rep. Chea Waters Evans said, if the town manager proposal goes to a vote at town meeting and is approved, she would already have a bill prepared to submit to the legislature to get its required approval of a town charter. If the town approves it by a reasonable margin of voters, she doesn’t think getting legislative approval will be difficult.

Generally, what a town wants the legislature approves, Evans said. “It could definitely be done by the end of the session.”

For example, a bill that was not controversial for a local option tax in Shelburne passed this year in less than 60 days.

The revised petition reads: “The town shall have a town manager form of governance per Title 24 Chapter 37, with the town manager’s duties per 24 V.S.A. § 1236, except for the duties of the road commissioner, which shall continue to be performed by an elected road commissioner.”

“I think it’s a good thing we pushed this petition because I think they’ve attracted better candidates,” said Russell, who is a member of the recruitment committee to review candidates for Bloch’s position.