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Claremont Charter Commission Nears Finish

Claremont — George Caccavaro, chairman of the city’s Charter Commission, said he strongly believes the commission’s proposed new charter has little chance of passing at the polls in November, and he will ask the commission members to reconsider later this week.

A majority of commissioners has voted to switch the city from its current city council/city manager form a governance to a board of alderman/mayoral form that would eliminate the existing city manager’s position and place more responsibility with elected officials.

In a letter sent to the commission’s eight other members this week, Caccavaro said some necessary changes could be incorporated into the existing charter without the dramatic shakeup in governance.

“We were charged by the voters to recommend changes in the current City Charter that would benefit our citizens and win their approval,” Caccavaro wrote. “We have come a long way toward achieving the former, but unfortunately, I believe we will not get voter approval as the charter now stands. As your chairman, I am compelled to tell you that, in my opinion, these recommended changes are not in the best interest of the majority of Claremont citizens.”

At Friday’s commission meeting, Caccavaro intends to ask commissioners to reconsider the motion made in March to move to the mayor/aldermen format. In order for that to occur, one of the five commission members who voted for the change would have to make that motion.

But two commission members who support the change of government say the decision should be left up to voters.

“I will not surrender,” said Cynthia Howard, who led the petition drive last fall for a ballot question asking voters to form the commission . The measure passed easily in November and Howard was one of nine members elected to the commission in January.

“It is up to the voters to decide at the polls if they like the direction we have taken,” Howard said. “I feel the best thing to do is let the voters decide. It is not about doing the popular thing, but doing the right thing, that is important.”

Initially, commissioners worked on revisions to the existing charter, but on March 14, members voted 5-3 to write a new charter patterned after the mayor/aldermen form of government of Manchester, the state’s largest city.

At its weekly meetings, the commission has used the Manchester charter as a template and adapted it to fit Claremont.

If approved by voters in November, an elected mayor would replace the city manager as the city’s chief administrator, backed up by a nine-member board of aldermen.

Commissioner member Joe Osgood agreed with Howard.

“The charter commission, through public input, has been told people would like to have a say (in government),” said Osgood, who represents the city as a Republican in the state House of Representatives. “I want to give people a chance to have that say. Telling them they can’t is pulling the rug out from under them completely.”

Caccavaro, a Republican who will be on the ballot for state representative in November, said in his letter that he supports some of the major changes the commission is proposing, including creating standing committees that would give residents more input on city operations.

“However, I am convinced that some of us have misread the citizens when recommending changing to a strong mayor form of government,” he wrote. “It would be a shame to see all these weeks of hard work end in a defeat at the polls.”

Caccavaro also recommended creating a system for more public input when evaluating the city manager, a position held in Claremont by Guy Santagate for more than a decade.

The commission could wrap up its work this week. Then, the proposed charter will be submitted to the offices of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and Department of Revenue Administration to ensure the recommendations comply with state law and constitution.

The commission meets at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers in city hall.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com