May 23, 2019

Holden charter bound for referendum

HOLDEN – The product of more than 20 work sessions, including two public hearings, the town’s first ever town charter will be the subject of a local referendum election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The charter’s biggest hurdle appears to be numbers, according to Charter Commission Chairman Dr. Edward David, the former selectman and longtime resident who chaired the town’s nine-member charter commission. Other town officials who attended Wednesday’s special selectmen’s meeting agreed with David.

In order for the charter vote to be valid, David said, at least 30 percent of the total number of voters who participated in the most recent gubernatorial election, or about 400 residents, would have to participate in the charter vote. With little other than state bond issues on the ballot, officials acknowledged they would have to work harder than usual to draw people to the polls. One of the ways they plan to get the word out is through a townwide mass mailing.

In the works since January, the 24-page document outlines the powers and duties of elected officials, the town manager and the town meeting.

If the charter is adopted, the town of Holden, which now has a selectmen, town meeting, town manager form of government, would retain some of the traditions that continue to serve it well, the annual town meeting chief among them, David observed in his final report.

The town manager would continue to serve as chief administrative officer. The town would, however, replace its selectmen with the same number of town councilors, who would have essentially the same legal authority as selectmen have under state law, but would be granted additional authority. The new powers include adopting ordinances pertaining to conditional zoning, accepting roads, implementing state-mandated changes, subdivision matters, bonds and notes amounting to up to 2 percent of the most recent state valuation and appropriations of up to $100,000 in any one fiscal year.

In addition to approving the municipal operating budget, town meetings would be required for: transacting town business presented by warrant articles; approving bonds or notes exceeding 2 percent of the most recent state valuation; funding reserve accounts; and creating, altering and repealing ordinances pertaining to the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, with the exception of conditional zoning.

The charter also includes an initiative provision, which is a way for citizens to bring ordinances directly to the voters, a referendum process that would enable residents to require a vote on ordinances passed by the council, as well as a recall provision for residents to use if they believe an elected official has not acted in the best interests of the town.

The desire to revisit local government was prompted, in part, by what some characterize as “voter apathy” as evidenced by low participation at selectmen’s meetings, town meetings and meetings of local committees and boards, according to a citizens group charged with exploring forms of government more than a year ago. Another impetus was the need for timeliness in the area of economic development.

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