Letter: Failed revision process was costly

To the editor,

As a citizen of Prospect, I thought my neighbors might want to know what has happened since the Charter Revision Commission was appointed back in September 2015, since the proposed Charter revision changes were voted down, and what this process has cost the residents of the Town of Prospect.

Prospect adopted its Charter on July 4, 1967.  It was amended four times over the next 20 years, and the last review since 1987 took place in 2000.  In August, 2015, Town Council voted to appoint a charter revision commission to provide an overdue review our existing Town Charter.

In September 2015, nine bipartisan volunteers were appointed to the Charter Revision Commission.  Over the next eight months, they took to task reviewing the existing Town Charter with legal counsel, all town boards and commissions, the Town Council, the Mayor and the public for their input on recommended changes.

After legal counsel approved all proposed changes, they were submitted in a final document to the Town Council for acceptance or modification.  The Town Council voted to allow the proposed changes to go to a public vote on Nov. 8, 2016.

The proposed changes were broken down into five separate questions with explanatory text so that residents could vote on each proposed change individually without locking themselves into one decision.  Charter changes and explanations were published in local newspapers, listed on the town’s website, and printed in flyers to be promulgated to residents at the voting booth.

Approximately one week before the Nov. 8 vote, large signs were erected in several places around town, including in front of Dunkin Donuts on Route 69, requesting residents to vote “NO” on all charter questions, signed “Thank you, Mayor Bob, paid for by Robert Chatfield.”

This was the first time that the Town Council and the Charter Revision Commission were made aware of the Mayor’s blanket objections to the proposed charter revision changes, despite several meetings attended by the Mayor over the course of the preceding 10 months.

The proposed charter revision questions were voted down.

In November, 2016, the Town Council received a letter notifying it of a town Charter violation regarding a residency requirements of an appointed official, and requesting the town Council to remove the appointed official from office.

The Town Council sought legal opinion on the issue, and the town attorney prepared a legal memorandum addressing the residency language in the charter.  The town may face further legal action on the issue.

The point of this letter is not to elucidate the extraordinary time and energy that the charter revision process demanded since September 2015, although that is evident, but to make Prospect residents aware of the costs they must now bear as a result of this failed process.  Legal fees incurred for the charter revision process exceed $115,000 and administrative costs, including publication, printing and clerk fees, exceed $15,000.  Legal costs continue to accrue, as charter compliance issues continue to arise, and there is talk of incoming unions (apparently consulted as a result of the confusion arising from the residency issue), which may demand increased benefits for town employees, the costs of which will be passed onto the taxpayers.

Some costs are inevitable with a charter revision process, but costs that are an investment in a town’s future are not wasted taxpayer dollars. However, legal costs to clarify obsolete charter language that could have been avoided with an affirmative vote on some of proposed charter changes, and costs that provide no benefit other than to defend qualified employees whose positions are jeopardized as a result of ambiguous charter language, are wasted dollars.

Prospect residents should think about these costs when they vote on the budget this year.  We paid over $130,000 and have nothing to show for it other than an obsolete charter and mounting legal fees.

Some believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but that can be costly.  The better plan is to prudently vote for a change.

Carla M. Perugini-Erickson

Prospect

The writer is a member of the Prospect Town Council.