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Panel Rejects Town Charter In Claremont

Commission to Make Revisions To City Form of Government

Claremont — Residents who may have hoped the charter commission would propose that the city of Claremont return to the traditional open town meeting form of government won’t get their wish.

The commission narrowly voted, 5-4, Friday night against a motion to draft a new charter and will now make revisions to the current charter.

Chairman George Caccavaro, who voted with the majority along with Joe Osgood and Ray Gagnon, both state Reps., City Councilor Nick Koloski and former city manager Bob Porter, said during the meeting that the commission was formed to improve the charter in a way that provides more input by residents.

“We need to make the city form of government more responsive to you the taxpayers,” Caccavaro said to the audience of about 30 in the city council chambers.

Osgood, a Republican, doesn’t believe a town government concept is as popular in Claremont as some are being led to believe and the commission should work toward giving as much authority as it can to the general public. He suggested creating standing committees of councilors and citizens to review spending and other proposals.

“You just don’t want to flip this back to the town (form) without a lot of thought,” Osgood said.

Commission members Cynthia Howard, who submitted the petition last year to form a charter commission, Rusty Fowler, Ron Gilbert and Paul LaCasse supported the motion to switch the form of government.

Prior to the vote, the commission heard a presentation from representatives of the New Hampshire Municipal Association on the various forms of government allowed under state law that the commission could consider forming.

Cordell Johnston, a lawyer with the New Hampshire Municipal Association, told the panel that scrapping the charter completely is not an option.

“You can’t use the charter commission to get rid of everything to be an open town meeting town (without a charter),” Johnston said. “That is a separate ballot question.” Johnston said such a recommendation would have to be presented by petition.

Had the commission chosen a town charter, it could recommend to voters a town council as the legislative body and governing body instead of a city manager. A town charter can provide varying degrees of citizen authority to approve bonds, budgets, zoning articles and other legislative matters.

The views of residents were mixed at Friday night’s meeting. Planning Board member Jim Shortz urged the commission to maintain the current city government. Shortz said such things as budgets and planning documents and proposals can take days to go through and understand.

“We have thousands of items. There is a lot of reading. I don’t think citizens want to spend two and half days reading through it,” he said.

But resident Walter White, who said he is still angry that the bond vote of $5 million for the new $10 million community center was made by the City Council and not a citywide vote, said change is needed.

“We have to do something to let the people vote more,” White said. “I don’t want to see $10 million spent in one night again.” That statement brought an immediate response from Mayor Jim Neilsen who said the City Council held hearings and invited public comment for weeks leading up to the community center vote.

“That process took a lot longer than one night,” Neilsen said.

Several times it was mentioned that turnout at elections typically draws about 10 to 20 percent of voters and budget hearings both for the city and school, usually about a dozen or fewer. Only 9 percent of the registered voters went to the polls to elect the nine members of the commission in January.

“(The problem) is not the form of government you have it’s the involvement in government you have,” Neilsen said.

School Board Chairman Richard Seaman agreed.

“We have many ways to be engaged and the fact is, there is very little engagement,” Seaman said.

The commission has until July 10 to propose charter revisions to the City Council in time for them to appear on the November ballot.

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