City Charter Commission Stands Pat

Claremont — The Charter Commission took no action Friday night on the chairman’s recommendation that it retain the current city manager/city councilor form of government and make changes to the existing charting instead of proposing a new form of government with an elected mayor and board of aldermen.

When Chairman George Caccavaro asked if one of the five commission members who voted to recommend the change in the government structure would allow for the suspension of Robert’s Rules to reconsider that decision, none of them spoke up.

With that approach having failed, Caccavaro next made a motion to accept the recommendation of a citizen’s petition that was submitted in April asking the commission to retain the city manager form of government. That motion failed 6-3, with Caccavaro, Ray Gagnon and Nick Koloski, a city councilor, voting yes. Rusty Fowler, Ron Gilbert, Cynthia Howard, Robert Porter, Paul LaCasse and Joe Osgood voted no.

Caccavaro, clearly irritated, echoed Gagnon, who said the recommended change in government is “one of the worst possible things” the city could do and he would work hard to defeat it.

“I’ll do everything I can to help take this down,” Caccavaro said.

Before the vote, a few residents spoke to the chairman’s proposal to make changes to the city manager form of government.

“I want a chance to vote in November for a mayor form of government,” said Walter White. “We are not going to know how the people feel unless we present it to them. If they don’t want it, they will tell us.”

Robert Picard, a School Board member, said he had no opinion one way or the other on switching to a mayor/alderman format but agreed with White.

“I have a right to decide, and I don’t want to see that taken away,” Picard said.

Picard accused Caccavaro of trying to “sabotage” the process half way through, while Caccavaro said he is doing what he believes is right.

Richard Seaman, chairman of the School Board, told the commission there is a sharp division in the city, and a proposal that garners a slim majority or fails by a small percentage will do nothing to bridge that divide and bring the city together.

“I think you need to come up with something 75 to 80 percent of the people will support,” Seaman said. “Get something everyone can get behind.”

The commission voted 5-3 in March to draft a new charter with an elected mayor as the top city administrator and nine elected aldermen to replace a city manager, who is hired by nine elected city councilors.

Using the Manchester charter as a template, the commission has made changes and added wording specific to Claremont. In a letter to commissioners earlier this week, Caccavaro said he supports some of the changes and believes the best way to win voter approval in November is to fold them into the existing charter.

“Why not give the people an opportunity to vote on something that will pass,” he said at Friday night’s meeting.

But Osgood said it is important to give voters a chance to decide on what the commission has drafted.

“Nobody knows where people in this town stand on this,” Osgood said emphatically. “We don’t know how they feel. I want the people to make the decision.”

Responding to Seaman’s comment about a victory by a small percentage, Osgood said “we got to put it to the people to find out what that percentage is.”

The commission also voted 7-1 to remove a tax cap provision of the proposed charter and will draft wording for a recall provision of the mayor, though Caccavaro said he was told by the Secretary of State that New Hampshire law does not allow for recall of elected officials.

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